Mel Biggs, who has recorded several albums as part of acclaimed trio Moirai, is one of the UK’s leading diatonic accordion players. She releases From Darkness Comes Light her debut solo album on 1st October. Over twelve stunningly inventive instrumental tracks, Mel Biggs takes us on a journey through the seasonal changes, both natural and cultural over the course of the year. Accompanied by fiddle, mandolin, piano accordion, guitar and cittern she invites us to join her on this deeply personal and evocative journey.
I ask Mel how the album came about:
This album has taken over a decade to be made. And when I say that, I’m not talking about the physical album, which took 9-ish months in lockdown, but the mental health journey I’ve been on since my early 20s. The darkness of living with anxiety and depression, a binge eating disorder, and menstrual health issues brought forth the light that is my music and composition. Further to this, and rather poignantly, the album’s completion earlier this year coincided with me being diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. Knowing this has given me the missing pieces on my past diagnoses and, well, literally everything in my life! Especially my sensory crossovers which influence my creativity so much.
The diatonic accordion (or melodeon) became my closest friend and confidante early on when Iwasn’t able to understand and process the difficult emotions I experienced. It gave me a way to escape and meditate on the natural world around me. The healing power of the great outdoors is one of my biggest sources of inspiration. A sunny day in spring watching washing dry on the line brought forth Shivelight In Spring. Being high up in the Norwegian mountains breezed Oppland Upland into my brain. Zoning out of a difficult day whilst viewing winter’s golden light in the garden gave me Silver Linings. Meditating on the heat haze obscuring the view out the back of my house shone Shimmer into my life. Let me travel the world with my accordion and I’d write and write and be very content!
Mel fills us in on the themes that emerged for the album:
When it came to making the album, I looked at what material I had and realised the running theme was light states in nature through the seasons. Each piece relates to a different point in my personal discovery journey. From Darkness Comes Light is a symbiosis of seasons, nature, and light and their combined effect on mood and mental health recovery. It’s also become a statement to myself of never giving up on finding those missing pieces to understanding and accepting yourself for exactly who you are. Feels like a pretty big thing to say about an album of instrumental folk music, but I prefer using sounds to words any day!
From Darkness Comes Light released 1st October 2021 by Talking Cat Recordings
In the week of the sixty-seventh anniversary of the recording of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ I talk to Peter Donegan about his father’s legacy, about his viral TV duet with Tom Jones and about his forthcoming album.
DJ: Firstly it’s a huge, huge pleasure to be talking to you. My own dad was a big, big Lonnie Donegan fan and I think he’d be very touched that I was interviewing his son. Growing up in the 1970s the Rolling Stones and Deep Purple and so on were always played a lot in our house but there was still always lots of Lonnie Donegan, too. So it was a big part of my childhood. But if we can start off going back to the very beginning then we’ll look at your more recent career. Elvis Presley recorded ‘That’s Alright’ and your father recorded ‘Rock Island Line’ in the very same month back in July 1954. It’s something Billy Bragg points out in his book on skiffle, and he called them ‘the first tremors of an earthquake that would shake the world’. Did that give you a good feeling seeing it put like that?
PD: Yes, definitely. Billy’s been a huge campaigner for the importance of what has become a kind of forgotten era – the skiffle era. I mean, Billy made another nice analogy which was that it was the nursery for British rock and roll. Because songs like ‘Rock Island Line’ – and that one in particular which changed the British music industry – it gave a new breath of life into what was, you know, a crooners’ market. And I don’t mean any disrespect to any artist up until my dad came out, obviously, but it did. It changed the nature of it. And it made music accessible. It meant that for people like Eric Clapton, for people like Van Morrison, for people like Jimmy Page – all these kind of people realised, ‘Ok, so I don’t have to be – number one – classically trained to play the guitar. I can learn the basic two/three chords – or one sometimes – and the lyrics and go for it.’ And, number two, it meant that you didn’t have to feel self-conscious singing a lot of these old American country and blues songs and feel self-conscious about it – especially a British white person as well. You didn’t feel like you were false either. You could be ‘paying homage’ to, you know, and doing it in your own way. I mean that gave birth to, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin who all started off in skiffle bands.
DJ: And it was a very British take. It wasn’t a straightforward adoption of an American culture was it?
PD: No, No. You could argue really that while skiffle was Americana music, as we call it now nowadays, it was definitely with a very British tint to it. It didn’t sound the same. They were the same songs, but they weren’t the same way. They were definitely distinct. Which is how ‘Rock Island Line’ went to number 8 in the States, you know – just before Johnny Cash recorded and released it. And the odd thing is, is that my dad had added that part of the tollgate which wasn’t in the Leadbelly original. And then Johnny Cash put out a version afterwards with the tollgate in it again – so you can argue that Johnny was listening to my dad’s version. Because it’s kind of like, he’s just taken dad’s version, slowed it down just a little bit. So there could be something there. There could be something there. You could argue really that the skiffle sessions – all that stuff for that period in time, that six years or whatever it was – was a little bit more British even than when the Stones came out. Because they were doing it much more per original blues… Definitely, much more modernised but it was arguably more towards the original than what Dad was doing.
DJ: In the true folk tradition he actually adapted it and added his own take on it and that’s now become the tradition.
PD: Yes, exactly. You know, it’s been fantastic. And, of course, Dad wrote his own things as well which we all know about. Most notably was the Tom Jones hit ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’. I mean, it wasn’t written for Tom to do. My dad went to release it because he loved the sounds that he was hearing coming from Ray Charles. Great gospel R&B singer, you know, and Dad thought, ‘That’s brilliant. I want to do something like that.’ Wrote ‘Never Fall In Love Again’ and the record label which was Pye at the time – who were trying to be true to their roots and wanting to be jazz, despite the fact of having Lonnie Donegan on the record label who was definitely not jazz anymore despite his origins of coming through with the Ken Colyer Jazzmen and then the Chris Barber Jazz Band – they insisted on there being a jazz version. So they recorded a jazz version and a more gospel version which Dad wanted to do. And insisted on releasing the jazz version – obviously, because that was their plan all along. And nothing happened with it – because it wasn’t what people expected. It wasn’t ‘Dad’ if you know what I mean. So, Tom picked up on it.
DJ: It was a few years gap wasn’t it between your dad releasing it and Tom Jones having a hit with it?
PD: It was early ‘60s for my dad. You’re looking at 62/63 whenever it was – and I think it was 67/68 when Tom released it. And Dad’s gag on stage was always, ‘What’s Tom Jones got that I haven’t got!’ It was always a good laugh. And then, of course, Elvis picked it up in the end because, you know, Elvis was permanently ‘on tour’ doing all the casinos in Vegas. As was Tom, so they were always going to see each other’s set at some point in time. And Elvis picked it up and did it, you know. And I think that was the last track on the last album that Elvis released.
DJ: And then, obviously, you had that wonderful emotional moment with Tom Jones on ‘The Voice’ two years ago. That must have been very, very special?
PD: It was! It was a big ‘pinch me’ moment because I was scouted by the show. They’d seen me at a country festival in London and they wanted that – because they knew that the country genre was really booming in the UK. And they wanted me to go and try out – so that was nice. And they said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not like you’ve got to wait in the queue or anything. You can go straight to the producer so there’s no pressure.’ And that’s more pressure I think! So yeah.. sat there and did some original songs. That’s what they wanted. They said they wanted originals. And went through about another four rounds of auditions and they said, ‘Yep – we want you for the blinds.’ And I just thought well, if nothing else, this is just a bit of PR. You know, get a nice bit of high-quality PR footage [laughs] and have some fun while you’re there. And when it was Tom that turned, you know, it was an emotional relief that somebody turned. I was very nervous. I’d never done anything like that before and it was a very nice moment. And then when, obviously, Tom asked us to do that song and we did it – it was a shock, you know. There’s a video about me – because I did a video on YouTube talking about it which had about two million views.
DJ: Yes, I watched that. I still tear up every time I see the footage. It’s just so incredible!
PD: It was a lovely, lovely evening. It really was. I mean, bittersweet in some ways because obviously you realise it’s a TV show first and foremost before it’s a talent show – and it’s a very good one and I really enjoyed my experience on there. But, as a friend of mine who was there said, ‘That’s going to go viral.’ I said, ‘Do you think? Shit!’ He said, ‘Why?’. I said, ‘I peaked too soon in that case! It probably means I’m out next.’ And I was out next!
DJ: But no-one could take away that moment though.
PD: No! I have no regrets. I had great fun. And not many people get to do three songs in two shows – so it was good!
DJ: Has Tom been in touch since?
PD: No. I’ve tried but not got anything back though.
DJ: Ok. Ok. And just looking back – this week, it’s actually the 67th anniversary of ‘Rock Island Line’ being recorded.
PD: Yep. ‘54 it was recorded. ‘56 it became a hit. It was a track on the Chris Barber Jazz Band album and for whatever reason Decca released it two years later as a single and it was played on – I can’t remember the radio show – Dad didn’t know anything of it. Somebody said to him, ‘You know you’re number one!. He was like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah check out the papers…’ And the rest is history, as they say.
DJ: And you did a special concert two years ago, to mark the 65th anniversary of it?
PD: We did, yes. We did one in 2018 just at the end because it all started off with Chas Hodges – God rest his soul. It was his initial idea because we were raising money for our son’s therapy for his autism and he said, ‘If you want to do a gig, me and Dave will get up and do something. We’ll do half an hour, you finish the gig off. I was like, well that’s lovely. Mentioned it to a couple of friends as I was talking and they we’re like, well I’ll do something and I’ll do something and someone said, ‘Well we haven’t done a night for your dad in a while. Why don’t we do that?’ So in 2018 we had Billy Bragg, Nora Guthrie, The Jive Aces, Mike Berry, Mike Read, Ralph McTell, Chris Difford from Squeeze, Chas McDevitt, Vince Eager and we did that at the Union Chapel in Islington. And Billy Bragg said, ‘Right, so what are we doing next year?’ And I was like, oh you’re kidding right. But I’d invited Van to do that one and he wasn’t available but then he followed up and said, ‘Are you doing another one?’ I said, ‘Well yes, next year’s the 65th anniversary of the recording of ‘Rock Island Line’. And then Mike Read said, ‘Well we need a blue plaque to commemorate that.’ So we did a blue plaque on the same day, on the morning and then we went and did the gig.
DJ: You obviously grew up with music. Did you always want to be a musician?
Yeah. I did. There was never any other option, you know. And I had a great coach, obviously, in Dad and he always taught me that the best thing to do – the only way to make it in this industry is to write your own songs. And that’s why I’ve always done that. From becoming my dad’s piano player to then becoming the opening act for the set, I always did original material. And then, from then I kept doing it. It was difficult because, you know, every time a label said that we could do an album they would only include a maximum of one of my songs on it. Because they wanted to make easy money and just do another Lonnie Donegan tribute album which was, you know, getting frustrating to say the least. So, I decided to go independent and in 2017 released my ‘Superman’ EP which did quite well for my first independent thing and that’s what got me ‘Country To Country Festival’ which got me noted by the guys at ‘The Voice’ and then on with Tom Jones and then on from there. And then we did the live album after that which was recorded in 2019 in the Decca recording studios. In the same studio that Dad recorded ‘Rock Island Line’ – which now belongs to the English National Opera. But that was nice. It was good fun. And then since then I’ve released ‘Thank You Texas’ which was co-written with two Texans at the Buddy Holly song-writing retreat in Lubbock.
DJ: And that won an award didn’t it?
PD: It yes – at the ‘Texas Sounds Country Music Awards’ last year. Got Best Male Vocalist and Original Song.
DJ: The Americana/country direction that you’ve taken as you wanted to pursue your own, as you say, independent career – was that a very conscious decision or did you just sort of evolve into that direction, musically?
PD: Well, obviously, when you consider the influences I was surrounded by with Dad’s record collection at home – which had everything, you know, from Fats Waller to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, The Highway Men – all that kind of stuff. So I grew up with that plus – I was born in London but only because Dad was doing a West End thing at the time… We were living in California. So you know California, Florida, Spain. I didn’t grow up here, so I was surrounded by American music a lot of the time. And Dad was big into country. And then so was I. I’m a huge Waylon fan, Willie fan and later on, you know, I love now Chris Stapleton and Eric Church and the High Women if you’ve heard them… So it was a natural transition for me because I like to write stories, you know real-life events, that kind of stuff. And country music, Americana music in general really lends itself to that.
DJ: Well story telling is at the heart of those lyrics.
PD: Yeah. So it was a natural transition for me. And when you consider really where I came from musically with Dad, skiffle is what we call Americana now. Because Americana is country, with blues, folk. And it’s just Americana is the umbrella term. And underneath it you’ve got all these different genres.
DJ: So what’s next for you in terms of your solo career? Are you working on new music at the moment?
PD: I am yes. Again, written at the same retreat with a couple of great song-writers in America. With Sean Healen who’s from New Mexico and with Tessy Lou Williams – ‘It’s My Dreams’. We did a lockdown sessions version of it which you can find on YouTube but there will be a single version of it coming out. And it will be included on the new album which is currently being made.
There’ll be a couple more singles to come off that album as well… I think there’s some really cool tunes on there, especially with the new collaborations. Because I do like to co-write… the old adage two heads are better than one is true. Because there’s ideas that you come up with that you wouldn’t come up with unless you were sitting with somebody else. I’m not saying that maybe their idea is in the song, but they say something which sparks an idea in your head again, you know – and the other way around, too.
DJ: That approach to collaboration is very much part of the Americana scene isn’t it, I think?
PD: It is and there’s a feelgood sense within it as well. It’s a case of not quite as much competition as we’re in it together. So it’s more fun to drag these other people that you respect – if you’re not already friends – along with you and have that shared experience rather than try and keep it for yourself. And I like that feel. It’s much more relaxed… It’s a better experience. It’s less uptight.
Thank you so very much to Peter Donegan for talking to me. You can check his forthcoming live dates on his website here:
When I came to review Called Back the latest album from Scottish singer-songwriter John Hinshelwood recently, on checking out his biog I was struck by the high regard he held for the Byrds and the influence that they were to have on his own music. Moreover, it went beyond mere musical influences. As well as sharing a stage with Roger McGuinn, he was involved in putting together a tribute to ex-Byrd and ex-Burrito, Gram Parsons, and actually came to record with former Byrd, Gene Parsons, who was with the band in its latter period, playing on five albums from Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde in 1969 to Farther Along in 1971.
I mentioned all this in my review and said it was certainly recommendation enough for me that this was going to be an album worth exploring. After I published my review, John got in touch. This led to a more detailed chat about how the Byrds came to have such a profound effect on his career and how he came to record with Gene Parsons.
I have already talked about my own particular Byrds journey here. There was clearly a meeting of minds between John and myself and he very kindly sent me a copy of his album on which Gene Parsons appeared.
Titled Holler Til Dawn the album was released in 2002. Recorded in various locations, including Scotland, Tennessee and California the album features eleven Hinshelwood originals, plus three covers: Kathy Stewart’s ‘Your Secret Love’, Lowell George’s and Keith Godchaux’s ‘Six Feet of Snow’ and Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s ‘My Uncle.’
The album boasts an impressive line-up of guest musicians and singers including, Rab Noakes, Cathy Stewart, Colin Macfarlane and Cathryn Craig as well as the aforementioned Gene Parsons, who plays on two tracks.
So how did he go about getting Gene Parsons to play on his album? John fills me in on how the two came to connect:
“I got to know Gene through Chrissie Oakes in Bristol, who used to run the Byrds Appreciation Society. I have known her since the early 70s and have kept in touch with her right up to the present. She contacted me back in 1995 to ask if I would be interested in organising a gig for Gene in Glasgow as part of his UK tour. Despite never having promoted a gig before, I agreed, and indeed had him back again a few years later. On both gigs, we did support, and agreed that on his next tour we would do some stuff together. Unfortunately, that tour has never happened, but I still live in hope.”
Prior to going on to record with Gene Parson, John was also able to bag himself a support slot for none other than Byrd’s founder, Roger McGuinn:
“The McGuinn gig came about as part of a roots festival in Glasgow in the late 90s. I knew the promoter, the late Billy Kelly, who was a great and genuine guy. I was really chuffed when he asked me to do an opening spot, not least because a lot of much better-known folk were desperate to do it. He knew how much it would mean to me as a Byrds fan, and he kept his word and gave me the gig. I must admit that it was somewhat surreal to be sitting in the dressing room pre gig, and listening to McGuinn practising ‘Eight Miles High’ next door!”
Reflecting on Gene Parsons contributing to the Holler Til Dawn album, Johns notes:
“As is the case with lots of recording nowadays, I wasn’t actually present when Gene added his contributions to the two tracks on Holler Til Dawn. Things have even changed a lot since 2001 when ‘Holler’ was recorded. Today, it is done by emailing files back and forth, but then I had to send the tracks by post to California where Gene recorded his parts, then posted them back to me!”
“The first track we did was the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman song ‘My Uncle’ which appeared on the Flying Burrito Brothers debut album “The Gilded Palace of Sin” in 1969. The basic tracks of Alasdair Kennedy (mandolin), Tim Clarke (acoustic bass), and myself on acoustic guitar and lead vocal were done in Glasgow, then sent to California where Gene added two banjo tracks and two vocal harmonies.”
“The second track was one of my own songs “We’re all in this together” and has just myself and Gene on it. I play acoustic guitar and sing lead and harmony vocals, and Gene did banjo, acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. Again, I recorded in Glasgow and Gene in Albion, California.”
“Recording in this way requires a lot of trust, as I could not be present to direct and produce, but with Gene’s track record and wonderful musicianship, I was confident that all would work out well, and that did indeed prove to be the case.”
Our respective Byrds journeys
As a non-musician with no discernible musical ability whatsoever I can’t really claim anything so grand as ‘musical influences’. However, the Byrds were certainly had a big influence on me in terms of expanding my musical tastes and interests. I explained in my own post here about how listening to the Byrds as a teenager led me to start exploring the words of American folk-rock and English folk-rock and eventually English folk as well as Americana and country.
John chips in his own two-penneth:
“Your Byrds story is interesting, and I can relate to much of it. I also love Fairport and have seen them more times than any other band. The Byrds also got me listening to folk music, and a lot of our gigs are in folk clubs. It was also “Sweetheart of The Rodeo” that got me interested in country music which, like most ‘rock’ fans I thought I hated. I have, in fact, been in quite a few country and country rock bands over the years, including The City Sinners, which played the music of Gram Parsons.”
Holler Til Dawn is a fine album of first-rate Americana and picked up many favourable reviews at the time. Whether you’re a Gene Parsons fan specifically or a lover of Americana more generally it is well worth checking out.
I catch up with founding member of Slade and drumming legend, Don Powell. Don’s band have just released a brand new single, a cover of the instrumental classic ‘Let There Be Drums’ featuring eighteen of the UK’s leading drummers with all profits going to We Make Events, raising money for crew, engineers and technicians hit by the pandemic and the cancellation of live gigs. Via Zoom in Don’s home in Denmark we talk about the new single, about the old Slade days, about working with Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott, about recovering from a stroke and much, much more besides.
DJ: I want to talk first about the new single ‘Let There Be Drums’ the cover of the old Sandy Nelson instrumental which was released just last week. It’s already made quite a splash I believe. Can you just say a bit about how that all came about?
DP: I tell you what, Darren, it’s funny how these things stick with you. It was before I was actually playing drums it was like in my youth club days when it was first released in ’61. So, I’d be 14/15 then and it was like the youth club. You know playing table tennis and we used to have the old Dansette record player and some of the older members of the club brought this record down and it just freaked me out. I’d never heard a drumming record before – just a solo drumming record. And I thought, blimey, this is incredible. It sort of stuck with me.
DJ: Were you already drumming by then?
DP: No, no, no.
DJ: So that’s what got you into the drums then?
DP: Maybe, I was playing drums in the boy scouts. But it just freaked me. It floored me when I heard it because I’d never heard a drumming record before. Anyway, it’s always been in the back of my mind. Then Craig Fenney, who was the bass-player with Slade when we went back on the road in 91/92, me and him were talking about it. It came up in conversation. I think it was Craig who brought it up in conversation. I said, “Actually, Craig…” What I did I recorded drums – do you remember that solo artist Jona Lewie? He had a couple of hits – ‘You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties’ and ‘Don’t Stop the Cavalry’. Well, he’s got a 48-track recording studio at his house. And he invited me down and I started playing around and I recorded one or two drum tracks. And when Craig brought it up, I said, “Actually Craig, I have got some recordings of the drum track.” Because the way technology’s gone sky-high, I got the old 24-inch master-tapes and had them transferred digitally. And then it was Craig’s idea who said, “Why don’t we try and get lots of guest drummers. Let’s throw some names in between us and do like a cover version.” I said, “That’s a great idea.”
And we started throwing names about and I mentioned Brian Bennett from the Shadows. Because about three or four times a year about 35-40 of us have a lunch in London – like musicians, actors and people like that. And Brian’s always there so we made contact like that. And he said straight away, “No problem.” And the idea was, Darren, was for them to record about fifteen seconds – and also film it so we could put it all together like a montage-type thing. And there was Bev Bevan who was originally from the Move, and then ELO and he did a stint with Black Sabbath. Everybody was so gracious and then we decided to donate all this to charity – for all the road crews and technicians who’ve really suffered with the pandemic catastrophe. And it just came together really quickly, Darren. They all put their oar in and got themselves filmed while they recorded it and sent it to us. And we just put it all together and we’ll just see what happens with it, mate.
DJ: Well it’s a great track and it’s a great cause so let’s hope it’s going to be a real success.
DP: I don’t think people really realise the work that these guys do. I mean without these guys the show wouldn’t go on.
DJ: Hopefully, when things do go back to normal we’ll start to appreciate them more – as ordinary punters.
DP: Can you see light at the end of the tunnel yet? There are a few concerts in the offing but we’re just going to have to wait and see, Darren.
DJ: It’s been quite an exciting time for you because you formed the Don Powell Band last year. You had the project with Suzie Quatro and Andy Scott a few years ago. There seems to have been a burst of new projects that you’re involved in these days.
DP: Yeah. I’ve been pretty lucky really, Darren. The Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott one was quite nice because what it was there was Slade, Sweet and Suzi Quatro band did a few shows together and Suzi, Andy and myself are sitting in the hotel restaurant one day and Andy Scott said, “Now this will make a good band.” And everybody’s sort of yeah, I wonder, I wonder… And we kept on mentioning it and it came about and we said let’s get together and do some recordings. And so what we did we went down to Peter Gabriel’s place. He’s got a massive studio complex over in the west country. And so we went down there and what we did you live there – sort of live, eat and record there. And that’s when we did the album really. We had a great time doing it. And then it got released by Sony in Australia and it charted. So we went over and tour there. Because what we did, Suzi Quatro goes over there every year anyway and she has done for the last thirty years. And we were the opening act. Andy, Suzi and myself were the opening act. It was a great tour. And it helped with the album really.
DJ: So all these new things that you’ve been doing – was it starting to get a little bit frustratingbefore? Because I know you went out with Dave Hill for a good twenty-odd years. Was it starting to get a bit frustrating just going out there and doing the hits? Were you starting to feel that you wanted to do some new things?
DP: In a way yes. Apart from doing the Slade material with Dave Hill – but that’s what people wanted to see. It’s like with any band that’s had an amount of success, it’s hard to get out of that hole that you dig yourself into. I mean, we had it with the original line-up with Noddy and Jim – what do we play or what do we leave out? It’s a hard thing to try and decide. Everyone’s got different ideas or different choices you know but we all have to try and find out or work out what the audience want really. But we came to an end in a way. Noddy Holder didn’t want to tour anymore so it was just a matter of looking for things and Dave Hill and myself were still keen on touring which we did. And actually it was great because we went to a lot of territories like Russia and the old Eastern Bloc which we couldn’t do in the 70s.
DJ: The world opened up more I suppose?
DP: Oh yes. We had some great shows in Russia. It was incredible. And it’s not until you go there that you realise how big that place is.
DJ: You were massive there but at the time you could never really get there.
DP: No, we couldn’t get there. There was no record deal. We hadn’t got a clue what was going on release-wise you know, for obvious reasons. And it’s amazing when you realise – we flew from Moscow to Dal’niy Vostok on the east coast and it’s like thirteen hours. That’s like flying from Los Angeles. It’s incredible – but we’ve had some great times there, Darren.
DJ: Yes, I only saw the original band three times in the early 80s but then I saw you and Dave many, many times after that. But there seemed to be a time, only a year or two ago when it all seemed to be going wrong for you. You had the email sacking you from Dave Hill. That was after your serious tendon injury that put you out of action for a while. And then to cap it all after that, you had a stroke. It all seemed to be going wrong for you?
DP: Yeah. It was a weird thing. There was no reasoning for it. With the stroke it was strange. I was here at home. We all were here at home, and I was just watching TV and I went to sort of grab my cup of tea and I couldn’t get the cup. I couldn’t grab the cup or hold the cup. I had to hold my hand and then I came downstairs to speak to my wife, and it was a problem coming down the stairs and luckily our daughter is a doctor. And she said, “You’ve had a stroke. You need to go to the hospital. Because my speech is a bit blurred sort of thing.
DJ: I thought that was just the Wolverhampton accent!
DP: Oh no! Or it could be my drinking days! That would have been normal then. If it was my drinking days I would understand – but that’s all gone! But we just sent for an ambulance, and they hooked me up to some machines and checked me out and they said, “You’ve had a stroke. We’ve got to take you to hospital.” And that’s what it was. It was just a small stroke, and I was at the hospital. Luckily, it was our daughter who said, being a doctor, who said, “If you were my husband I would send you to the hospital.” Anyway, it was all sorted out and everything was ok. Apparently, it wasn’t that serious but I’m glad I got the advice. So yep, everything’s ok.
DJ: Because there was like a twelve-month period where just everything was going wrong for you. There was your tendon, then there was the Dave Hill thing, then there was your stroke. Was there a time when you just thought about packing it all in and knocking it on the head?
DP: No. No.
DJ: You always stayed positive?
DP: I was very positive. Actually, that came from my wife as well, Darren. My wife, Hanne, she was great you know. She made me practice going upstairs and I had a practice kit and she made me get on that and she said, “I love to hear you play.” And that was ok, actually. It was strange. There was no problem playing drums or anything. And it was just a matter of this little minor stroke happened if you like – and that was it. I’m on tablets for the rest of my life but apparently that’s just like the norm these days. But it’s ok. It was a bit scary at the time.
DJ: And a high point last year, it must have been really nice for you after all these years seeing Slade back in the album charts?
DP: Yeah incredible. You see, I looked at the CD and I thought, “Blimey. It ain’t bad is it? A nice bit of history there.” But also, when it went back in the charts I thought everybody had got this stuff, you know! How much further can you go, you know. It is incredible but I tell you what people always talk about the – we call it ‘that song’ – the Christmas song. No matter where we go around the world, no matter what time of year – they wanna hear that song.
DJ: But do you think this has helped broaden people’s memories and recollections of the band now? I mean, that compilation must have helped.
DP: Oh I think so. I think the general comments I’ve been getting, Darren, is people saying, “Oh, I didn’t realise you had so many hits. Oh, I forgot you had that one. Oh yeah and that one.” I mean I do myself as well. I’m looking thinking, wow I forgot about that. So it’s nice compliments and it’s nice bit of history on the CD really.
DJ: The hit that really got everything going for me in terms of Slade – because I was like 6 or 7 when ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ and those hits came out and I was more into the Wombles than Slade at that age – but by the time I was 14 ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ came out. That was your big comeback single. That was the one that really turned me into a lifelong Slade fan.
DP: That was a great record. Obviously, with Nod’s lyrics that’s how it came about. It’s all about a concert. And what we did, when we recorded that I just went to the toilet and I made a loud cough and I thought, “Ooh, that’s a nice echo in here.” And I thought, “I wonder, how would it be if we put the drums in here.” Because it was all tiled and everything and it was like a thunderous sound in the toilet – absolutely incredible. But we never thought – I was halfway through this incredible take and the automatic flush went off. I thought, “Oh shit!” you know. And we had to turn the water off – it’s those things you don’t think about. It was a great comeback record that, though. It was a nice record to come back with actually.
DJ: It must be a brilliant record for a drummer, too, because the drums are so centre-stage.
DP: Oh yes. It’s great to play on stage, Darren. Because the thing is I can just keep on playing while the other guys just talk to the audience and just mess around and all that. It’s a great stage song, especially for me anyway.
DJ: As a drummer which is your favourite Slade song to play?
DP: Oh, there’s a couple really. I mean ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ I always love playing and ‘My Oh My’. If you listen to that at the start it’s basically just bass drum and snare drum. And I come in with the drum fills afterwards. It was a great song to play and also ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ is one of my favourites as well.
DJ: Definitely. That would be one of my favourites as well.
DP: It’s incredible. There’s another one when you think, Darren. We released that in the States at the same time in ’73 and it never saw the light of day – nothing. And then Quiet Riot recorded it and it goes to number 1.
DJ: And then gave your career a boost because you started having hits for the first time ever in America as well.
DP: Oh, that’s what happened there. It gave us a boost. All these record companies over there were after us and we signed with CBS. And MTV had just started as well, Darren, which helped a lot. That video was on MTV all the time.
DJ: The ‘Run Run Away’ video?
DP: Yep. ‘Run Run Away’ was released first because they used that castle as the back-drop. Of course, like typical Americans they all thought that’s where we lived.
DJ: Slade’s castle!
DP: They thought it was our house.
DJ: That’s even more bizarre than Vic Reeves really.
DP: Yes. We just played along with that one, so it was quite good.
DJ: Well, yeah, every rock band in Britain has their own castle.And if we can go back to the very, very early days of Slade now. In the early days you actually wrote quite a bit for Slade at the start but when the hits started coming you stopped. I think that was a shame, personally, because while I could see your lyrics were not hit single material, I would have thought for album tracks they would have been perfect.
DP: I’ve started writing again now but the thing is Noddy Holder and Jim Lea started writing and they were doing it like that [clicks fingers] and they were coming out with the hits, and it was so easy for them, Darren, so I just let them carry on with it.
DJ: Oh right, you just thought let them get on with it.
DJ: They didn’t actually tell you to stop writing or discourage you?
DP: Oh no, nothing like that. They were coming up with this great material, so I just thought, you know, “Let them carry on with it. They’ve got the formula now so great just let them do it.” But I’ve started writing again over the last few years for the solo stuff I’ve been doing so we’ve just got our fingers crossed with the Don Powell Band really when we start doing some more recordings. But then again, Darren, it’s amazing how technology’s changed. Because of this pandemic crap, you know, I haven’t been able to travel. The rest of the guys have been recording stuff in England and sending the files to me and I just go to the studio I use over here, put the drums on and send it back. It’s not the same as all being in the studio at the same time because there’s that rapport you have that sort of feeds itself when you’re all playing together. But at least we can do something while this is going on around us, you know?
DJ: It’s something really positive to focus on.
DP: Yes, there’s a guy in Australia who I met when I toured there with Andy and Suzi a few years ago and he was doing some solo stuff and he asked me to play drums on it and I said yes. And he’s doing the same. He’s sending the files over from Australia. I’m waiting for them. And I’ll put drums on and send it back.
DJ: So can we expect an album from the Don Powell Band then?
DP: Oh yes. For sure. For sure…
DJ: And when..?
DP: Hopefully – they’re all writing stuff, which is all of us – as soon as possible really, Darren. At the moment with this pandemic, as I said, at least they can send me material, I can put drums on and send it back, you know. But it’ll be nice when we can all get in the studio together at the same time. A great bunch of guys and they’re great fun to be with. We only had two rehearsals together before all this lockdown came.
DJ: So you know each other better on Zoom than you do in real life!
DP: Exactly! It’s strange it is.
DJ: Although, obviously, you and Craig (Craig Fenney – bass player) go back many years.
DP: Oh yes. We go back even before we were back on the road – Dave and myself when Craig was in the band – I’ve known Craig even before then. So it’s not like we were total strangers so that’s good.
DJ: And still just on Slade, I’m not going to dwell on the Dave Hill thing, but do you still hear from the other two members of the band – Noddy and Jim?
DP: Yeah, occasionally we speak and like I said we’ve got one coming up in September. There’s like 35-40 of us have a lunch together in London. There’s like musicians, drummers. And it’s great. There’s like Bruce Welch from the Shadows and Brian Bennett. I mean there’s Clem Cattini. I don’t know whether you know of him, Darren?
DJ: Oh yes, big session player – yes.
DP: Oh you know – and he’s such an unassuming guy because you know he started with ‘Telstar’ from the Tornadoes, that’s how it started with him. And he went into studio work and do you know he’s played drums on over 200 hit records? 55 number ones he’s played drums on.
DJ: That’s more than you!
DP: Yeah. It’s phenomenal.
DJ: I mean you’ve not done too bad playing on number ones.
DP: The thing is when you’re talking to Clem, Darren, you talk about records and, “Yeah, I played drums on that. Yeah, I did that one as well. Yeah, and that one.” He was telling us he never knew where he was going in those days. He’d have a contact. Go to so-and-so studio. He said on one day he did ‘Lilly The Pink’ in the morning by Scaffold and in the afternoon he packed his drums away and went to Decca studios and then he did ‘It’s Not Unusual’ by Tom Jones. So he did two number ones in one day. And he got something like sixty quid. [laughs] But that’s what it was then.
DJ: It’s more the legacy than the money.
DP: Yeah, course it is. He’s got some great stories though. And it’s why I like talking to Bruce Welch as well because I asked, and I didn’t know whether Cliff Richard and The Shadows actually toured America – but they did. Back in the very early ‘60s they were on one of those package things with people like Dion and the Belmonts, all those kind of people. But then again, travelling on a greyhound bus. No private jets then. It was just travelling on a bus. But yes, it’s great talking to those people. And those people I look up to those people.
DJ: And Noddy and Jim, do you still hear from them?
DP: Well, as I say, Nod’s always at the lunches.
DJ: So you keep up with Nod.
DP: And Jim – Jim’s not on email. Jim never bothers with email or mobile phones or anything like that.
DP: Oh good. I mainly contact Jim through his brother now. His brother’s on email so I make contact like that through his brother. So I’ll see Nod – if the lunch goes ahead in September, Darren, I shall see Nod there. We always have a good laugh you know. The thing is no-one knows what we’re talking about. We’re just on our own talking and killing ourselves laughing. And no-one knows what we’re talking about. Well when you think, when we’ve been together so long – like I’ve always said I probably knew the rest of the band Nod, Dave and Jim better than I knew my own brother.
DJ: Because you saw a lot more of them.
DP: Oh, just in the back of the van and sharing bags of chips and things like that. I mean we went through so much together really and that can never go away.
DJ: Yes, and that’s a really nice note to end the Slade memories on. And just looking to the future now what next for the Don Powell Band?
DP: Well like I said, it’s all frozen with this pandemic that’s going on but hopefully, as you know, because we’re recording at least we can do some recording. Like I said they send the files to me and I put drums on and send it back. So, hopefully, when all this clears we can get together. We only had two rehearsals together before all this started. So, hopefully, we can just get things sorted when all this pandemic stuff’s done.
DJ: And you are planning a tour then?
DP: Well we would like to, but we will see how it all sort of channels out really. So it’ll be nice. It will be the usual thing. They be asking for ‘that song’. Merry Christmas!
DJ: Presumably, you are going to do a mix of new material and Slade classics?
DP: Oh, I suppose we’ll have to do. Because one of the guitarists is Bob Wilson from Steve Gibbons Band. So we’ve started rehearsing some of Steve Gibbons’ stuff as well. So there’s a lot of material to choose from, Darren.
DJ: And if I can ask one final favour as well. I work for a learning disability charity called Stay UpLate and what we do is help people with a learning disability get out to gigs.
DP: Oh nice! I do that kind of thing over here, Darren.
DJ: Yeah, I knew you did. And one of our participants Daniel is a massive Slade fan, so if you can give a message of support to our charity Stay Up Late that would be brilliant.
DP: Hi there people. This is Don Powell from the Don Powell Band and I’m sending a message to the Stay Up Late people just keep on trucking and keep on going guys. It’s going to be fantastic.
L.A. Moore is a US-based singer-songwriter. Alongside two albums he’s recorded with folk rock influenced band Not Broken Yet, Late Bloomer is Moore’s first solo release.
Originally transferred to Florida from Canada for a job in corporate marketing, he found himself out of work in the economic collapse of 2008 and started attending open mic evenings in the Tampa/ St. Petersburg area. Over time L.A. hooked up with two other local musicians, John Stone and Paul Cataldo forming the folk rock band Not Broken Yet.
“When COVID came along the band slowed down its live schedule but I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit in with The Joe Milligan Project and John Alan Carmack, both great songwriters in their own right”. “Of course the big challenge was to go out and play on my own. At that point you question whether you or the songs are good enough, but I thought, this is something I really want to do and I’m not getting any younger.”
I caught up with him recently to talk to him how he first got into performing, his inspirations and his musical influences, as well, of course, as his new album. Late Bloomer is an album of pithy, engaging, thoughtful original songs and some deft acoustic guitar-playing. I was keen to find out more.
Firstly, tell me a bit more about your musical background.
I was largely a” hobby” player, up until 2008. Guitar had always been a serious hobby and I did get out to play when I was living in Canada, but it was not until I was out of work in 2008 in Florida, that I really started to go out and perform. There is a significant and emerging music scene in the Tampa St. Petersburg area and there are wonderful opportunities to both play and interact with other local musicians. I ended up in a “Folk Rock” trio, Not Broken Yet, which has produced two original CD’s. (Not Broken Yet 2, being released as we speak). Sonically we are often compared to CSN and the Eagles.
And your main musical influences?
Being a child of the mid-sixties music scene, I was fortunate to be influenced by the great music of the time, Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Cream, Hendrix, with sprinklings of the other Brit Invasion bands. The first “album” I ever bought was the Butterfield Blues band, which of course lead me to The Blues Breakers, Mayall, Yardbirds etc. Motown was big too, so there is all of that.
‘Folk Music’ was still in its evolutionary phase coming out of the late 50’s, but as an acoustic guitar player I was influenced by Dylan, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and local hero Bruce Cockburn who often played at the college I attended.
As my tastes and interests matured, I discovered Pentangle, Jansch and Renbourn, and later, John Martyn and Nick Drake. As I looked to improve my acoustic chops I discovered Geoff Muldaur, who had a very strong influence on my current style. Geoff also influenced the type of guitar I play, that being 12 fret models, once I discovered the unique qualities of acoustic 12 frets, I started to play them exclusively.
What were the key inspirations for the songs on the album, and your song-writing generally?
Well, “Late Bloomer” is pretty self-explanatory. I got out of the gate pretty late with performing and songwriting, but now I am making up for lost time with an enthusiasm and confidence I did not have in my youth.
When I first started going out to play in the local Florida music scene, there was a great emphasis on original song writing. Several of the venues, which did not have ASCAP licenses at the time, did not allow cover songs, so you had to write. The first of those songs was Little Miss Hurricane, influenced by my first weekend in Florida sitting in an empty house, waiting for my furniture to arrive and watching Hurricane Jean, rip the screen lanai off the back of my newly purchased home! Welcome to Florida!!
Naturally other songs followed and the themes ranged from suicide of a friend (‘Reach Out’) to ‘Home’ – which begs the question, where is home? Where you are from? Where you live? Or somewhere in the mind?
‘Rum Punch’ is also clearly influenced by the southern lifestyle. I was never a fan of Jimmy Buffet, but he is a HUGE influence in Florida and my not-so-secret wish is to one day have a crowd of sun worshippers singing ‘Rum Punch’.
As I moved forward with the songwriting I went back to some of those early acoustic influences and started to explore the great sonic opportunities of open tunings. Several of the songs on Late Bloomer are played in open D tuning.
And tell us a bit about the accompanying musicians you assembled?
Late Bloomer has a small “who’s who” of local talent. Largely produced and engineered by Stephen Paul Connolly at his Zen Studios here in St. Petersburg Florida, Stephen is a local guitar hero who toured as the lead guitar player for Roger McGuinn, when he pursued his solo career. “Steve” is highly respected for his production skills and draws the best local songwriters to his recording studio. He plays guitar, pedal steel and keys on several of the tracks.
Douglas Lichterman is a local guitar teacher and member of the Joe Milligan Project band. I have had the pleasure of playing with Douglas on several occasions and was honoured to have him play on Late Bloomer. TJ Weger is a local legend, playing guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, dobro etc. TJ was fundamental in bringing the “Americana” vibe to many of the songs. Sam Farmer is a very talented local drummer and solo musician. John Stone plays bass with me in Not Broken Yet and John Alan Carmack who sings backup on ‘Rum Punch’ is the hardest working musician in Tampa/St. Petersburg with his own exceptional CD Kentucky Motel.
Late Bloomer can be obtained via lamooremusic.com on CD and most digital platforms
Alan Hewitt has played keyboards with the Moody Blues since 2010 as well as fronting his own band Alan Hewitt & One Nation. In this interview we talk about growing up in a small US town where all the upcoming local bands seemed to be obsessed with English prog, about eventually getting the call from the Moody Blues and about catching Covid while performing an online gig to a virtual audience. We also discuss his latest single and forthcoming album.
DJ: It’s so nice to speak to you, Alan, and thanks so much for your time doing this. First, I’d just like to find out a little bit about how you got into music professionally in the first place?
AH: Ok, Darren, great to be here… Well, I started out like a lot of kids do, you know, twelve years old and I started on drums and we put a band together. I grew musically as time went on. Those were fun years. My brother actually played bongos in my band and we would play gigs together.
DJ: A percussion duo, you and your brother then!
AH: Yeah! Actually my brother was a real kind of nurturing guy along the way. You know you need someone to kind of help support you along the way. My parents were great, too. So then, had a band – fourteen-fifteen years old – which was a really cool band. It was three of us, kind of like an Emerson Lake & Palmer thing. And we did Tchaikovsky, and we would turn them into rock tunes. And we opened up for a lot of known acts and so that was kind of my start to getting into the little bit bigger realm of things. From that point on I went to Berklee College of Music and that’s where things started blossoming as I started getting some foundation under me. And it moved from there…
DJ: So the prog classically-influenced thing came at quite an early age then?
AH: It was interesting because the town I grew up in (Petoskey, Michigan) was really small. It would be like Cobham, something like that over there. And we had several bands and pretty much all of the bands were into progressive rock. I mean like Gentle Giant, Blodwyn Pig, Genesis, Yes, and of course, Emerson, Lake & Palmer – all of them! Yeah, it’s kind of strange actually. I wanted to go as far out as I could possibly go. Some of the guys I was with that was far enough. I wanted to go even further so that’s why I kind of moved on.
DJ: And eventually at some point the call came to begin touring with the Moody Blues. How did that gig come about?
AH: Well there was quite a gap in there because I had film and TV and then I did some other things. And then along the lines I was in a management group which had Earth, Wind & Fire, Warrant, Moody Blues and the Beach Boys and some others. So that was how it originally all came together. I had met Justin (Hayward) about twenty years prior to me being in the band and we got along great. I had a sail-boat, we’d go out sailing – just kind of hanging. Did a little music but not much. And then, like you said, later on I got a call asking me if I’d be interested in going out. They didn’t tell me it was the Moody Blues though. I said, “It depends who it is but I’m interested.” And after I had a little meeting with Robert Norman who was our agent, he approved it to the next level and then I had an audition – along with some other guys, too. And then I got the gig and that’s kind of how it came down.
DJ: Wonderful. Although you weren’t a nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame presumably you were there as part of the live performance?
AH: Yeah, we got to play!
DJ: That must be something!
AH: It was cool. It was really cool. It was a long night for the guys because we were last on – and, of course, they have to sit out there at the table with everybody. But it was really cool. I spent a lot of time in the green room with Ann Wilson and some of the other people that were in there – and it was a gas.
DJ: Because she inducted the band didn’t she?
AH: She did. And it’s interesting because I had met her. I had a band in Chicago back in the mid-80s and they worked at a studio called Pierced Arrow. Remember that song ‘Another Paradise’ with the guy from Loverboy? They were recording that… and I happened to be working a lot at that studio, too, and the guy who co-produced and mixed all of our records was doing that record. And I met her then, so we talked about that and she goes, “Wow, that’s a long time ago.”
DJ: Must have been a fantastic occasion for the band?
AH: Oh yeah. Have you had any of the other guys on? Have you had Justin or John here with you?
AH: Nice. I did his first solo tour with him and it was really nice. Him and John – he’s totally acoustic and plays all his work. And John’s is more of a rock show so it’s an interesting contrast.
DJ: When live performances get going again in the UK, I’d definitely like to see more of them.
AH: That would be nice.
DJ: You’ve obviously continued with a parallel solo career while being in the Moody Blues – and your film and TV work, too. Do you still continue with the film and TV compositions?
AH: I do yeah – I like to stay as creative as possible, so the Alan Hewitt & One Nation project is kind of an extension of the music that I really enjoy – whatever comes out basically because I need that conduit. It’s always coming in and so I have to bring it out. So we’re working on that album and that will be done shortly. We’re moving along pretty good. We’re on about half way through – and some of the new songs are pretty cool, too. And, yeah, the film and TV thing is a continual thing. I do – probably twenty-five shows I have music in on any given day…
DJ: So any shows that British viewers would be familiar with?
AH: I do have some British shows but you’re putting me in the hot chair – what are some of them? I have some stuff on the BBC… I know I have some documentaries. One’s about the redwoods – the trees over here. I think there’s a farm animal show and there was one about turtles, too! There’s three of those – those are documentaries. Of course, I did Bridget Jones – Edge of Reason. I know that’s not real British, but they play British – and there’s one Brit in it right!
DJ: We know that – we’ll go with that! What initially prompted you to put Alan Hewitt & One Nation together then? Tell us a little bit about that.
AH: Well it started, I just had a bunch of different revelations and it’s something I always wanted to do, and I was at a point – we took a break with the Moodies. I think it was at least five months. So it was a time where I could go ahead and start moving along with things. And it started with Jamie Glazier from Chick Corea and Jean-Luc Ponty. And J.V. Collier and Sonny Emory from Earth, Wind & Fire. And then Duffy King who’s my friend from northern Michigan, who was in one of those bands I told you about – and has won tons of awards in Detroit for his music and guitar playing. He was a Gibson clinic guy, too. So that was the foundation of that first band. And then I took a break from it because I got busy with touring with the Moodies and John (Lodge). And then we started it up again because now Duffy King’s still in it and then Billy Ashbaugh from the Moodies – the drummer from the Moodies who joined a few years ago to play along with Graham (Edge). And then David C. Johnson from the Neville Brothers. So then three of us live in Florida. So that made it a lot easier to do things. And then Duffy flies in when we need to do events or anything. We did a virtual ProgStock concert, but we had to go to a studio to do it, over in Fort Myers, and we all got Covid there.
DJ: Oh dear me.
AH: See what we do for the fans!
DJ: So you’re doing an online concert – looking after your audience and everything – but you still get Covid.
AH: Yeah. That was back in October and everybody’s good now. There was a few complications with a few of us but we’re all good on that now. So it kind of evolved into what it is and this way we’re going to be able to tour a lot easier. A smaller group and we have a new agent who is Jim Lenz from TKO. And the guys just all love what we’re doing. It’s just a really good, nice hang because we all get along great so it’s nice.
DJ: When is the album due? Is there a date?
AH: We’re looking for Summer, but it could be Fall. It just depends. A lot of it depends on this situation. It was starting to look good over here and now we’re getting a little bit of an upsurge again but – I’m hopeful.
DJ: I’ve heard the latest single ‘We’re One Nation’ which I love, and I love the sentiment behind that. Do you want to say a little about that and how you were inspired to write that?
AH: Of course, just like you and everybody else we’ve been paying attention to things and I just got to the point where instead of yelling at the TV I wrote it down. And that’s kind of where that came from. It’s not an angry thing but the concept is that if we all just kind of work together we’d be much better off – instead of splintering off into these little groups. So that’s the bottom line.
DJ: And the timing was perfect I think.
AH: Yeah. It definitely was. We had a single before that called ‘One Step Closer’. That’s a little bit more… it’s one step closer to the edge is basically what it was. ‘We’re One Nation’ is a little bit more positive
DJ: I absolutely love it.
AH: That’s good. I’m glad you like it.
DJ: Is there anything else you want to tell us? Any final thoughts you want to leave us with?
AH: Oh well, just we hope everybody can go out and see shows pretty soon and we’re looking forward to doing it, also. And thanks Darren for doing the podcast. Appreciate it.
DJ: It’s really good to chat. Thanks so much and good luck with everything. I hope you can get out performing soon.
AH: I do, too, and if we come near you we’ll see you?
Mark Farner was one of the founding members of American rock legends Grand Funk Railroad. As well as being their lead singer and lead guitarist he was also the band’s principal songwriter. In this interview we look back at Mark’s career: forming Grand Funk, performing at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969 and London’s Hyde Park in 1971 as well as discussing the inspirations behind his songs, his collaborations with the likes of Ringo Starr and Alice Cooper not to mention his brand new DVD ‘From Chile With Love’ which is due out on 6th April.
DJ: When we think of Grand Funk Railroad we think of one of the legendary American stadium bands of the 1970s. But you actually started off as a stadium band pretty much from the get-go. One of your very first gigs was at the legendary Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969. How did that come about?
MF: Well, the attorneys that did the legal work for that pop festival were the same attorneys that Terry Knight, our manager, used for his legal work in New York City. So they worked a deal with the promoters of the pop festival to put us on first and we’ll play for free. Grand Funk plays for free just to get the exposure and then they gave him an adjusted fee for the legal work. So, you know – one hand washes the other. That’s how we landed that gig. What a lucky thing for Grand Funk!
DJ: Incredible! And how did it move on from there – from that spectacular opening?
MF: Well, of course, the record companies had a lot of acts there and Capitol, being one of the companies, were very interested in talking to Terry Knight at that festival about signing. And then he did a deal with Capitol – a production deal – and signed the band to himself under this production deal and told the band that the 6% that we were receiving and dividing was more than the Beatles was getting. And we said, “More than the Beatles! Wow, that’s cool.”
We didn’t know. We’re twenty years old, Brother. So, we finally find out years and years later – there was a contract between Knight and Capital Records for 16%. So he was keeping ten, giving the band six to split and then taking a management commission of that 6%, Dude. Aargh – the tales I could tell you!
DJ: I’m pretty sure virtually every successful musician of your generation has a similar tale to tell!
MF: Oh, absolutely.
DJ: In 1971 you came over to the UK to London and headlined at Hyde Park? Have you any memories of that particular day?
MF: Darren, I gotta tell you. There I was ready to tear things apart because I always got worked up before I go out on the stage. I had to burn it off. You know, do some boxer shuffles and stuff – with my guitar on just to burn it up. Then it’s like busting out…shoot number four.. dynamo… the bull’s riding you know! So, here I come and I did not know that the lighting director had put dance wax on that stage, Brother.
Ohhhh my god. I hit that stuff and my cord – because we didn’t have cordless back then, you had a coil cord. I had two twenty-footers that would lock together with XLR connectors in the middle like a mic cable and it gave me a great distance. I could run any stage. But I was not prepared for what happened. Here I am. I hit that stage and I come sliding out on the dance wax and I’m going, “Oh, shit. I’m not gonna stop! Oh, no! I’m going right over the front of the… Woo!” And there I was, standing in front of the audience with the stage ten feet up and I’m at the very end of that cord. That guitar cord was still in my axe and I still played from that position. I just made like it was part of the show, Dude. What a breaking in I had at Hyde Park!
DJ: That was a great welcome to Britain really, wasn’t it?
MF: Oh my god, yeah. It was wonderful.
DJ: Grand Funk Railroad were always portrayed as one of those archetypal down to earth blue-collar type bands, but your lyrics weren’t always just the traditional rock n roll themes of cars and girls and rock ‘n’ roll. Your lyrics often dealt with some of the themes that the more esoteric bands were dealing with – ecology and peace and war and so on.
MF: Yeah. That was a kid from Flint, Michigan who lived in the outskirts of town. I was not a city boy by any means. We lived on my great grandfather’s farm in the farmhouse he built. It was an eleven-room farmhouse, and we had an orchard to run in and we had a river to play in. No houses back then, you know. What a great place to grow up. And that’s what I had in me when I left Flint, Michigan, and I first got in an airplane. I had never flown before it was like, “Oh, my god. This is cool. Look at this.” You know, I was just at that stage of life and that stage of my maturity and it came out in my music. I think people appreciated the heart behind it. There was always a sincerity because I meant what I said. And when I show up in Santiago, Chile, and I walk on that stage, I am who my songs say I am
DJ: Looking across your entire career which songs would you say you are most proud of?
MF: Well, I would say first of all I’m your captain. Because of the vast audience – it really crosses a lot of lines. And for some reason – I mean I prayed for that song. I asked God to give me a song that would reach and touch the hearts of those that love wants to get to – because God is love and love is unconditional. And that’s really, you know, what we’re made of. But we’re convinced by somebody to believe in some form of indebtedness to something and that took us away from the truth – and that awareness that we had in that setting of love, the strength and the power of love. So, we’ve gotta get back to it. And that’s what the music says to the people. Even in foreign countries, Darren. There in Santiago and Lebanon – a friend that I got to know he learned English because he wanted to know what the lyrics to ‘Heartbreaker’ meant. And he said that it was tearing him up. He loved the song so much he learned English. Then he moves to Detroit and he owns a lot of property. His family came over. It’s a good thing.
It’s a good song. And it reached the hearts of our military because it came out at the end of the Vietnam era and it really touched the hearts of a lot of Vietnam veterans. In fact, they voted my song number one when they had the twenty-fifty anniversary of the Wall – the monument there in DC. And they asked me if I would come and play that song. Just bring an acoustic guitar and, you know, play the song. And I said, “If you’re gonna have a stage and lights and you’re gonna have a PA I’ll bring my whole band. We won’t charge you a cent. We’ll put a whole show on.” An entire show for the veterans. And there was not just the Vietnam American veterans, but our Canadian brothers and sisters were there, too. And there’s family and it was a community feeling. And when we got to sing closer to home to that particular crowd, Brother, it was hard because I had a softball right here (holds throat). I’m so choked. I’m looking at everyone crying and hugging just for what that song does for them. Oh, my god.
DJ: That feeling must come to you every time you perform it now?
MF: It does. It’s my reward for being true and getting my ass outa bed and writing that song. Because a lot of times prior to that I can tell you, I had songs going on in my head and I thought I could hold em – I’ll remember this until… It was gone! So, that one stayed, and it became what it is to people because of no video – there was never a video of that song – and because of that it’s the same as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. At WNEW in New York City they polled, they asked an audience of a hundred people, “What is the definition? What does this song mean to you?” And they got a hundred diversely different definitions. Not any two were even close, the guy’s telling me. I said, “Out of a hundred people not even close?” “Not even close,” he said. So that’s the same thing that happens, I believe when people read a book and then they go see the movie and they say, “Oh, that movie sucks.” Because that movie that they were running, that one was their own imagination and we come up with a whole lot better stuff!
DJ: And that’s why music is so special and such a universal language because we can all have that connection in our own unique way.
MF: Yes. Absolutely, Brother.
DJ: And for those reading who’ve perhaps not followed your career so closely in recent years give us a quick low-down on your solo career.
MF: My solo career has been doing a lot of dates up until the Covid thing. Going out with a lot of different bands. Jefferson Starship and Blue Oyster Cult and you know, some of our friends that are still sucking air and playing music. It’s great to be able to do that. And I love the setting, like when we go out and do a hippy-fest or Happy Together (festival) and then there was a tribute to the Beatles that we did. Just to get together with other musicians it’s going to be a learning experience.
For instance, when I got together with Ringo Starr to do that gig, Randy Bachman – the guy that made that chord is showing me how to play it – and I’m learning. Randy is a solid guy. He’s a really good-hearted man. He’s a real dude and I appreciate him so much. And we had Billy Preston, John Entwistle, Felix Cavaliere. Oh, my god – just the talent that was there on that stage and nobody ran into each other. I mean, you know, it was like such respect. And when we landed in Tokyo and had the press conference and Ringo was sitting at the table – the band was down both sides, it was kind of like the last supper with Ringo in the middle and the band going down both sides. And a lady came up and she’s from a magazine and she said, “I’d like to ask Mr Farner a question.” So I stand up and she said, “What is it like playing with a Beatle?” And I go, “Let me tell you something, Ringo puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everybody in this room.” Ringo stands up and he goes, “Thank you, Brother. And he comes over and he gives me a big hug. A sincere man thanking me for just giving him this recognition of just being a guy. Because he is tormented by people who want his autograph, who want it – because of their imagination. Their parents had it. Their parents’ parents had it for the Beatles. It just gets passed on and then your imagination carries it to this next level. So I feel for him and I understand why he went on YouTube and he did that thing but he’s a great guy and he’s a good-hearted man. He really is.
DJ: And tell us about your new DVD From Chile With Love – which includes a charitable donation doesn’t it?
MF: It’s going to be released April 6th, the official date. It is Mark Farner’s American Band ‘From Chile With Love’. It is available on my website markfarner.com It is sixteen performance tracks with two bonus videos, one of which is available for a free download right now markfarner.com. It is ‘Rock and Roll Soul’ taken from this live DVD concert and we got five audio tracks. Five bonus tracks – songs that people will hear for the first time. All for $14.99 – such a deal!
DJ: When was the concert recorded?
MF: It was a couple of years back in Santiago, Chile at Teatro Caupolicán. It’s a very good concert. My wife, Lesia, and I take three dollars from each of the DVD sales, and we contribute to Veterans’ Support Foundation. And they are an outfit that is of veterans, by veterans, for veterans that take care of, you know, transitional housing, they take a veteran off the street, if somebody’s had a hard time getting what they’re owed by the government there is somebody who will advocate for them and stand in the gap there and make sure that they get what they served their country to get. And we believe in them because we’ve been working with these same people since the ‘70s and this is a get-it-done operation and there’s nobody getting paid there. It’s all voluntary work – so we put our money where our mouth is and we thank the buyers of this DVD, the fans who will help us contribute to our veterans and their families in this way. We appreciate it so much. And if I could give a number if anybody knows of a veteran who could use some help or knows somebody in a situation call free: 800 882 1316
DJ: You also performed on several tracks on Alice Cooper’s latest album Detroit Stories. How did that come about?
MF: Well my manager, Bobby Steinman, gave me a holler he says, “Hey listen. Alice Cooper’s doing an album. It’s going to be a tribute to Detroit. There going to use some early Detroit funk, some Suzi Quatro, some Bob Seger and I’m thinking, “Wow man, a tribute to Detroit and Alice Cooper’s asking me? What a privilege that would be – yeah count me in.” So, it was getting into the studio with Wayne Kramer – a friend from the past and I have the utmost respect for him. I remember seeing MC5 at Detroit fairground for a concert that was there with all the local acts. That was Iggy and the Stooges, Amboy Dukes and oh my god, yeah, a lot of local acts. And we saw the MC5 take the stage and every head within a half mile turned right towards the stage and went, “What the heck is that?” And I shared that with Wayne. Loved working with him.
Loved working with Johnny (Bee) Bedanjek on this same project. Jonny Bee played drums for me back in the ‘80s in a solo thing. I did a three-piece with Mark Gaughan and Johnny Bee and we went out down through the south and toured three-piece and rocked the place. It was great. And it was great because Johnny Bedanjek puts it down. He lays such a deep back-beat. You can’t fall out of it. He would drag you into it.
DJ: Did you hang out with Alice Cooper back in the ‘70s or did you just get to know each other through this project?
MF: No, it was because he was a headliner, and we were a headliner we never did. Our paths didn’t cross. But I did play music with Dick Wagner who was Alice Cooper’s guitar player. But it was gas to hang with him. And Alice is a perfect gentleman. He’s a humble person. What really impressed me, Darren, we’re sitting in a restaurant. We just get our food. His fork is half-way between his plate and his mouth, and somebody walks up and says, “Will you sign this?” And he puts the fork down and takes the pen. I’m telling you, he’s a humble guy and to work with Bob Ezrin – what a terrific producer. A talent. That guy is intense. He’s the most intense producer I’ve ever worked with, but I love that intensity about him, and I love the depth of his heart.
DJ: And my final question, and I must ask this on behalf of your British fans, is there any chance of you and your other two original band-mates from Grand Funk ever reuniting for one last time?
MF: It wouldn’t be for lack of participation by me. For over twenty years I have been attempting, for the sake of the Grand Funk fans to put the band back together – the real band. Listen, I don’t know what it is. I know it’s not nice or not good what keeps us apart. But I keep proposing this and it never gets met with any… like it’s for real. “Yeah, well put a plan together.” “Me? A musician put a plan together?” No, you get a promoter to put a plan together. You get somebody that knows what they’re doing, that’s been in the business, that stands to make a lot of money. That’s the person you put in charge. You don’t put the musician – you keep his head in the creative place. Thank god, that’s where mine has lived most of my life and I haven’t had to deal with the business shit that keeps bubbling up. Somebody’s got to deal with it and thank god my better three-quarters, Lesia, has a better grip on it than I do.
DJ: And is there one final thought you want to leave us with today?
MF: Yes, Brother Darren, I just like to leave everybody with the thought of being free in our minds, disconnect ourselves momentarily from every indebtedness, not just monetary indebtedness but the indebtedness that comes from unfulfilled expectations of other people and the like. People are moved from the place of comfort by this weapon known as debt. It is the most foul word in the English language. It encompasses more than it could ever let on, so reckon with yourself in your time, in your heart closet and know that you are free and you are the one that controls the gate. Owe no man anything except to love him.
Thank you to the music legend that is Mark Farner.
The DVD Mark Farner’s American Band ‘With Love From Chile’ is released 6th April 2021 and is available via https://markfarner.com/
Following the release of his highly acclaimed new album ‘The Last Glam In Town’ I talk to former Glitter Band legend, John Rossall. Our chat covers glam rock, show bands, growing up in Blackpool and, of course, John’s new album and the prospect of touring again post-Covid.
The last glam in town – that’s quite a statement isn’t it?
People have their own perspectives and thoughts on it. I just wanted to do an album. I’ve not done one for years and years, well forty-odd years, of original songs. But, yeah, I think it’s a bit of a statement really.
It’s such an authentic sound on the album that really captures the original spirit of glam. What was the experience like in the studio, making a glam rock album in the 2020s rather than the 1970s?
Well, for a start in the 70s you were actually in the room with somebody. If anybody was going to record something, they actually came in the studio to do it. You couldn’t have a guitar player playing his part in, say, Berlin and the drummer drumming in Stockholm. That’s a change. That took me a while to get used to.
Clearly it worked! Did you find the technology helped you create that glam sound even though it was recorded in a completely different context?
In some ways it did. But you have to write the song first before you worry about the technology. But I knew what I wanted to do before I started recording. I wanted to update what we did – the Glitter sound, basically. I wanted to bring it right up to the twenty-first century. It’s not been played on radio stations for quite a long time and I kind of wanted to update it. Make the drums a bit more powerful and make one or two subtle changes. But the main ingredients of it, the original production – I wanted to keep some of that magic in it.
You must be very encouraged with the reviews so far?
Yes, I am. It’s like I’ve written them myself almost! It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.
Tell us about some of the people you collaborated with on the album.
I had a few people. Apart from my touring band – that was the basic bottom line – but I had different guests on different songs. For instance, Jon Robb from the Membranes, we got together. I wanted to take the Glitter thing to a bit of a dark side, an almost avant-garde thing. And I found that the most challenging thing, to update it in that way but keep the roots of it still there, you know. Also, I worked with Robert Lloyd from the Nightingales. I recorded three songs with him and also Mark Standby, who’s a long-time collaborator. He was in my band about twenty years ago. He lives in Berlin now. I got Bob Bradbury from Hello to write a song for me. I wanted him to do one where we produce a kind of tribal feel with the drums. And then I got Michael (Wikman) from Sweden who plays the drum track on that. Of course, not forgetting Alan Merrill from the Arrows who wrote ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ who wrote a song for me (‘Equaliser’) not long before he passed away, a couple of months later.
That was written especially for you for this album, was it?
Yes. We knew each other quite well in the 70s, obviously. But you know, over the years you kind of lose touch, like you do. But in the last five years we reconnected and did about three short tours in the UK. And the magic – he was still the same guy. I really enjoyed the tours we did with him and it’s so sad he never got to hear the finished thing. He actually plays guitar and does backing vocals on there.
Some of the songs on the album are really personal to you, aren’t they, like ‘Blackpool Rocks’?
Well there’s quite a lot of songs about Blackpool that I learnt when I was growing up. Most of them by the great legend George Formby – ‘My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock’ and ‘Cleaning Windows’ and all that kind of thing. But I kind of wanted to do one that went over my childhood. I grew up in Blackpool. My dad was in quite a famous Blackpool band in the Empress Ballroom. He played there for twenty years and as a kid, aged about 10 or 11, I used to go down there about once a week. And I used to stand at the side of the stage. Of course, I liked swing bands when I was about 10, 11, 12. And because he worked at the Tower Company, Winter Gardens we used to get a lot of free tickets to the summer season shows. And the whole atmosphere of Blackpool in the 50s was amazing. And that’s what basically the song is about. My childhood, Blackpool in the summer and my dad, who was still my mentor, even after all these years. So that’s what that was about. I was quite happy when it was done although it was one of the hardest songs to write on the album, actually.
If we can now go back to the very early days of your career. You were leading the Boston Show Band in the late 60s and early 70s and they morphed into the Glitter Band. We tend to think of show bands as mainly an Irish thing, but you were an English band working in Germany, weren’t you?
My first professional job, earning a living, was in an Irish show band. And I lived in Ireland for a few years. And then I joined the Mike Leander Show Band, which was an eleven-piece band, back in 1965. We did an eleven-week tour, an old-fashioned kind of package tour with the Bachelors headlining and people like Susan Maughan. And then the band disbanded and I didn’t know what to do and I thought I’ll start my own band. And that’s what I did a few months after that. Got an act together, got some guys together and we went across to Germany in 1966 and we stayed there for about nearly six years. Of course, there were personnel changes, people leave, somebody wants to settle down and when they got home sick, they’d want to go back to the UK. But I enjoyed doing it. We worked together with Paul Raven (Gary Glitter) during that time. And we kind of split really beginning of 72. We were touring the UK quite heavily. And myself and Harvey Ellison, the other sax player in the band, we had laid some notes down on ‘Rock and Roll (Part 2)’ in December of 71 and we thought the record had fizzled out. Then I got a call from Mike Leander around about the beginning of June of 72. And he asked whether we’d like to re-acquaint ourselves and work with Paul Raven again with ‘Rock and Roll (Part 2)’. And I thought yeah, we’ll do that. We were doing quite well and had some records as the Boston Showband at that time and I did make it a condition – and I liked the idea of Mike Leander producing – I did make it a condition that we would get to do a record after a reasonable amount of time, which we did.
And how many albums did you do with the Glitter Band then?
I did two.
People wouldn’t necessarily think show band to glam rock as the obvious route. But there were parts of the show band sound that became an integral part of the Glitter Band sound weren’t there?
The main thing was that most bands and groups around, they were just guitars and drums and maybe keyboards. Not a lot of them had sax and brass so that was correct. And, of course, in my very early days as a teenager in Blackpool I was playing in brass bands. And ‘Angel Face’ that’s got a kind of brass band feel about it, with the drums and the way the brass section goes especially in the middle eight. Some of those ideas, of course are apparent on the new album. As I said, I only did two albums with the Glitter Band back in the 70s, but this album is kind of the album I missed out on – that I wanted to make. Because when I left, I felt I had unfinished business with the band. I wanted the band to do something in America. We’d done it in the UK and Europe but to me the job was only half done. And I left.
So, this album isn’t just a career renaissance for you it’s actually a career highlight in terms of albums then?
Yeah, it is. When I started making the album it never entered my head, I was going to make a 70s album or a glam album. It’s just me. I’m the guy who wrote those songs in the 70s. And I’m a lot older now and more mature obviously – I hope! And I write songs now. And it’s people who are listening who put you where they think you should be. And it wasn’t a nostalgic album either. I just wanted to make a brand new statement and update the Glitter sound and do some fun songs. And that’s what this is about – having fun really, nothing serious.
You left the Glitter Band in the mid-70s for a solo career. For those who are maybe not familiar with your career since then do you want to just briefly sum up what you did musically between the Glitter Band and now with this album?
Well I did a couple of singles which were quite decent, but I was quite unlucky actually. One was playlisted everywhere. A song called ‘It’s No Use You Telling Me No’ a song I did with Twentieth Century Fox. And lo and behold just as it was coming out, they decided to close their UK office down. And we tried to buy the master back to give it to another record company, but they wouldn’t let us have it. And I was quite disillusioned. Then I went to Sweden for quite a few years. I was relatively unknown there. I thought my music was done but after a couple of years it never really leaves you. And I got a band together – Swedish guys – with the idea of just playing a few gigs, getting together at the weekends just for a bit of fun. But then I started getting invitations to go to Germany playing festivals. Big festivals, a couple of trips to the UK and, of course, it like reawakens you – the hunger. So, we were touring, quite a bit and shows in the UK. Not with any original music just mainly the old hits. And about two years ago I thought it would be nice to go on tour, make a new album with some brand-new songs and that would give me something new and creative. Well, of course, I got the album bit done and I should be on tour really now but obviously I’m not.
Yes, that’s something that’s affected every musician.
That’s the luck again! It strikes!
So, what are your plans now this album is out and assuming at some point venues reopen and we can start seeing live gigs again?
Hopefully, we’ll still tour the album, albeit next March, April, May – whenever we’re allowed to and it’s safe to do so, of course. That’s my immediate plan. Of course, the album’s only been released a couple of weeks so it’s still early days for it. We’ll have to see how we go with the album, really, and then that will decide what I do. But if it remains the same as now, I’ll probably go out and promote the album and do some shows. I still enjoy playing live. It’s still a great feeling you know.
And still going out there playing music. You could be the Jerry Lee Lewis of glam rock. The last glam standing?
Yes well. If the cap fits, yes!
Anything else you want to say?
Well I just hope people give it a chance, give it a good listen to and go out and buy it obviously. And I hope I can perform it next year on some live shows. I know through social media that people really want me to tour the album and that’s what I’ll try to do. So, all I want to say is I hope everyone gets through this alright and we can carry on and life gets back to something a bit like more like normal for us all.
Thanks to Claire Moat and Anne Street for their assistance in arranging this interview.
October 2020 marks fifty years since the release of the Led Zeppelin III album. Greater Manchester Rock Radio’s Stewart Taylor recently devoted one of his ‘Classic Albums’ shows to celebrating the album’s anniversary. The show included exclusive interviews with all three surviving members of the band. GMRR have kindly shared those recollections from Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones for this piece.
Led Zeppelin III showed a marked progression in style from the previous two albums where the hard rock and blues influences were accompanied by folk influences and acoustic-based tunes. To begin preparing for the band’s third album Page and Plant had decamped to the isolated Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in Wales:
Jimmy Page: “The creative process for Led Zeppelin III changed because the first album had been – I wouldn’t say in a hurry because it was done efficiently and from the period before that we had already started doing a few dates in Scandinavia – and we didn’t stop! We didn’t stop working, all the way through 1969. And we’d managed to do the second album and we were also doing dates and tours in America. And we got our first – what you would call a break. And it was nice because it was fabulous all the energy of being on the road. But it was nice to breathe a sigh of relief and take in the general scent of the countryside… There was still writing going on but it wasn’t the frantic pace of having to do a show that night. The cottage in Wales was one of Robert’s ideas… It was good because it was acoustic guitars and whatever. There was literally no electricity. It was log fire, gas lights and little tape recorders. So the electricity that was in that place was the electricity we were producing with the music if you like.”
Robert Plant: “It had been a real fast quite a rollercoaster to get to that point. From what I remember we really needed to take stock and we were very aware or wished to make a departure of some kind and to calm it all down a bit….We wanted to try and break off, break away and we had an affinity he and I. And even if it wasn’t absolutely the most fruitful moment of the time, it at least allowed us the space to have space. And that meant that when we went on to write further on down the line we had developed the ability to create more space in the music.”
The pair were then later joined by John Bonham and John Paul Jones at another location, Headley Grange:
John Paul Jones: “I suppose it was the first time we’d ever we just sat down together and just tried things, you know, tried lots of different things. We had acoustic instruments as well hanging around. And it was just really nice to sit around a stretch out a little bit I suppose and just experiment. The band was never about making the same album twice.”
On the decision to plant themselves firmly in the ‘albums band’ camp:
Jimmy Page: “It was really apparent what was going on in America. There’d been a number of FM stations that had been established. And these FM stations were playing what we’d now call alternative music – to the singles. And you’d even get to hear them playing a whole side of an album. And I thought – oh boy! This is wonderful. This is the area to go in. Not the singles market because the problem with the singles market, you’d have a single that everyone has worked on… and you’d find bands who did that, the rest of the album material wasn’t very good. Because they were a singles market band. Not only that you’d find when they did the next album… they have to do something that sounded very much like the single off the first album so everyone knew who they were. We didn’t do that.”
Led Zeppelin III saw the band exploring more acoustic material:
Robert Plant: “The thing opened up much more then. Although it was there – I mean on the second album there was ‘Ramble On’ and on the first album there was ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’. There was the kind of acoustic element. The variety was there. My performance I wasn’t that pleased with on the first and second but by the third… ‘Gallows Pole is one of my favourite tracks and ‘Immigrant Song’ is, too. They were just so far between the two. And that to me was the beginning of me actually saying yep, boy, you can do something. Rather than it all being in the one idiom if you like. So yeah, I started getting a bit of pride then”
At the end of the hour-long show each of three are asked for their final thoughts on the album, listening back on it now:
John Paul Jones: “Well it reminded me how good a band it was. Also, it reminded me how much I miss John Bonham.”
Robert Plant: “All we wanted to do was keep stretching. This is the whole thing about Led Zeppelin.”
Jimmy Page: “If the band was going to stay together then you could really start going on this road where these initial ideas are expanded…right over the horizon in every direction.”
Emerging from Tyneside at the start of the 1970s Lindisfarne quickly carved out a unique place for themselves as one of British rock’s most original bands. Their pioneering sound, combining acoustic instruments like mandolin and fiddle with their electric blues roots, proved the perfect medium to deliver the catchy, memorable songs provided by the band’s resident writers Alan Hull and Rod Clements.
Tragically, Alan Hull died in 1995 and the original band eventually called it a day in 2003. However, for several years now Lindisfarne have been back in business with a classic line-up of long-time members. Fronted by original founder-member Rod Clements and Alan Hull’s son-in-law Dave Hull-Denholm, they are joined by Ian Thomson (who was with original band throughout the 1990s and early 2000s) on bass and Steve Daggett (who initially played with the band in the mid 1980s) on keyboards, along with fellow Geordie and former Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson.
Ahead of their fiftieth anniversary tour back in the spring I caught up with Rod Clements for this interview. Sadly, Covid came along and, like every other band, Lindisfarne’s 2020 tour had to be cancelled. Some new dates have now been scheduled for 2021 – check the band’s website here. Since this interview took place former band member Charlie Harcourt has also sadly passed away.
DJ: This tour marks the band’s fiftieth anniversary. What can fans expect?
RC: Fans can expect a celebration of the band with five good pals who’ve been working together now in this incarnation for six years. Everyone in the band, particularly, is at one with Lindisfarne. And we’ll be playing our handful of hits and lots of other stage and album favourites we’ve accrued over the years!
DJ: Ray Jackson reformed the band a few years ago and then he retired and you stepped in. What was it like coming back to Lindisfarne again and did you need much persuading?
RC: Well it came as a total surprise to me. I mean Ray, as you say, reformed the band. They actually went out under the name of Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne which, to be honest, I didn’t think was a particularly good idea, in relation to the democratic spirit of the band. But, anyway, after that he decided to retire. The rest of them decided that they wanted to carry on and they asked me to rejoin – which was a complete surprise to me. It was a surprise when Jacka retired and then a further surprise when they asked me to rejoin. I wouldn’t say I jumped at it straight away. I was very, very pleased to have been asked but I had other things going on in my solo career which I wanted to clear and check out with other people before I made a decision. But everybody I spoke to said, “Yeah you should go for it”. And so I did. I accepted. And I’ve never regretted it once. It’s been great on several levels for me. I don’t know how much you know, Darren, about the current line-up. Have you ever seen us?
DJ: Oh yes, I saw you last time you were at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings two years ago. I really enjoyed it. Fantastic!
RC: Well there’s only been one change since then which is Charlie Harcourt has retired for health reasons so we are down to a five-piece. But I think, if anything, that makes us more of a dynamic, close-knit unit. No disrespect to Charlie, of course. Great bloke. Great musician. But I think we’re more tightly focused now.
DJ: And do you still keep in touch with other former members? Obviously two of the original five are no longer with us.
RC: We are in touch to an extent. We don’t see that much of each other. My focus is on the current band. But obviously sometimes messages go astray and things like that. So we’re in touch when we’re relaying them to the people they’re intended for. And there are historic business connections – old and miniscule royalty payments [laughs].
DJ: You need to make sure you don’t fight over the miniscule royalty payments!
RC: Indeed. It’s all very amicable over things like that.
DJ: You were in Jack the Lad at one point when three of you splintered off from Lindisfarne. Will you also be playing any Jack The Lad songs during this tour?
RC: Well we have done. I’m not sure if we’ve any planned for this time out. For instance ‘Why Can’t I Be Satisfied’ we’ve done with this line-up. That was Jack The Lad’s first single. And yeah – we may well do one or two of my other contributions.
DJ: There’s a website that lists all the bands that played on Hastings Pier in the 1960s and 1970s and so I checked and apparently Lindisfarne played there in January 1975 – but you wouldn’t have been in the band at that point I don’t believe? However, Jack The Lad did play the pier in March 1975. Any memories?
RC: I don’t think I would have been there! I think I’d left Jack The Lad by then and been replaced by Ian Fairbairn and Phil Murray.
DJ: So have you any memories of playing Hastings during the 70s heyday?
RC: Well I remember playing Hastings with a later line-up – although still including Alan (Hull). Because Alan was big friends with Kenny Craddock who lived in Hastings and Colin Gibson (both former Alan Hull/Lindisfarne collaborators). So we’ve had good connections with Hastings for a long time. Kenny, of course, is sadly no longer with us. But yeah it’s a nice town to visit. I think we feel a certain amount in common with it. It’s got a kind of a left-field feel about it. It’s a bit alternative.
DJ: And going right back fifty years ago here. You were in a band called Brethren who teamed up with the late Alan Hull and changed your name to Lindisfarne. Now I love that island. I’ve visited several times but who came up with Lindisfarne as the name for the band?
RC: Well, we were already signed to Charisma Records as Brethren and we were recording our first album when Charisma told us there’s an American band called Brethren and they’re going to be huge and we’re going to have to come up with a new name. And we spent ages trying to think of a name – finding one that suited everybody. And then our producer, John Anthony who produced Nicely Out of Tune (the band’s 1970 debut album), was visiting the north-east and we were rehearsing and he was going through songs with us. And somebody mentioned that they’d been up to Lindisfarne at the weekend – just for a trip out. And John said, “What was that? What did you say?” And so we repeated the name Lindisfarne to him and he said, “That’s it!” When he knew what it meant he said that’s the perfect name for you. And we went eh? Really? Because, you know it sounded to us a bit like calling it Wallsend or something like that. And he said, “No, no – it’s a great name.” And I have to say, the more we thought about it, the longer we mused on it, the more appropriate it seemed. You know, being an island and a tidal island – it’s kind of semi-detached from the mainstream. It stands on its own a bit, as we have done, and it’s very much of itself. And it’s a name that’s served us very well over the years.
DJ: He was totally right wasn’t he?
RC: He was yes.
DJ: And are there any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
RC: Just to say we are very proud to be out and about celebrating the original spirit of Lindisfarne, musically and politically. And our stance is we’ve retained the first principles and we’re having a great time doing it.
You can check the band’s tour dates for 2021 by visiting their website here