Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Alan Hewitt of the Moody Blues and One Nation – new single ‘We’re One Nation’

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?

DJ: No, I did see Justin – he performed a solo gig down here in 2019 at De La Warr Pavilion. I’m down on the south coast.

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?

DJ: Definitely. I’ll be there!

www.alanhewittandonenation.com

Related post:

Live review: Justin Hayward at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 2019

Interview with guitarist/singer/song-writer and Grand Funk Railroad founding legend Mark Farner

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/

2020 in Darren’s music blog – the ten most popular posts of the year

I wish everyone a happy New Year. My special thanks go to all those who have visited (and hopefully enjoyed) Darren’s music blog during 2020. Weirdly, although I originally started this blog nearly seven years ago mainly to cover live gig reviews, I’ve had far more visits to my site this year than any previous year. This is in spite of all the gigs (and the gig reviews!) stopping in March.

Anyway, as we look back over the year here are my ten most popular blog posts from 2020. Although I’ve covered the usual eclectic range of metal, folk, Americana, brit pop, rock n roll and glam rock this year, it seems that people were particularly seeking out my glam content this year. Glam ended up pulling in eight of the ten top slots. Here they are in order of popularity…

1. Veteran drummer Don Powell out of Slade

When Don Powell announced he had been sacked from Dave Hill’s continuing version of Slade it came as a shock to many, eventually being covered extensively in the music press and the tabloids. I posted the sad news up on my blog within minutes of it being announced on Don Powell’s Facebook page – I was first to report it and for the first 24 hours pretty much the only one to report it. My post went viral and was shared all around the world.

Read full post here

2. Glitter, glam and Blackpool rock: interview with glam rock legend John Rossall

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.

Read full post here

3. Sweet launch video to promote new single ‘Still Got The Rock’ and forthcoming album ‘Isolation Boulevard’

Sweet’s ‘Still Got The Rock’ single was released in digital format in December followed by the digital release of new album Isolation Boulevard. The single is reworking of a song that first appeared as a newly-recorded bonus track on the 2015 Sweet compilation album Action: The Ultimate Story, by the band’s previous line-up. The new version features the current line-up of Andy Scott, Bruce Bisland, Lee Small and Paul Manzi.

Read full post here

4. Before glam: the debut 60s singles of Bowie, Bolan, Slade, Mud and Sweet

When glam rock burst into the UK pop charts in the early 1970s the genre may have appeared all shiny and new and suitably outrageous but many of its lead players had been trying to make their all-important breakthrough in the previous decade. Five of the acts we look at here all released their debut singles in the mid to late 60s.

Read full post here

5. Slade legend Jim Lea releases video footage in bid to locate recently stolen guitar

Founder members of Slade were not having much luck at the start of the year. Jim Lea’s cherished Fender Stratocaster was stolen in central London on 31st January. He released a video in the hope that it will prompt members of the public in helping reunite him with his guitar.

Read full post here

6. Live review: Supergrass at Alexandra Palace 6/3/20

The only live review to make the top ten this year, this Ally Pally gig from the Supergrass reunion tour was actually my penultimate live gig before lockdown. (I managed Glen Matlock at the 100 Club the night after). Without a doubt, for me, the greatest band of the Britpop era, I was at the Brixton Academy on the Supergrass farewell tour in 2010 and ten years later I was excited to be their for the their first of two nights at Alexandra Palace on the long-awaited reunion tour.

Read full post here

7. Death of a glam icon – Steve Priest: 1948-2020

Steve Priest, bass-player with the Sweet and an icon of 70s glam rock sadly passed away in June following an illness that had hospitalised him. In an emotional post on his band’s Facebook page, former band-mate Andy Scott paid tribute to the best bassist he ever worked with. A phenomenal bass-player whose harmony vocals were an essential part of the band’s classic sound Steve Priest we salute you – a true glam rock icon.

Full post here

8. Slade at No. 8 in the UK albums chart – their highest position since 1974!

I was well chuffed to see Slade’s new greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz go straight in at No. 8 in the UK’s album charts back in October. This was the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974. Even during the days of the band’s early 80s comeback, a decade after glam, Slade albums were still struggling to make it to the Top 40, even when they had a second run of hit singles.

Full post here

9. Slade’s Don Powell recovering from stroke

The run of bad luck for Slade icons in the early part of the year continued. Don Powell, suffered a stroke on Saturday 29th February at his home in Denmark. Fortunately, his step-daughter Emilie, a doctor, was with him when it happened and was able to act swiftly to call an ambulance and get him to hospital. His wife Hanne released a statement and Jim Lea and Andy Scott both sent their best wishes.

Full post here

10. ‘Confess’ by Rob Halford – a gay heavy metal fan reviews the Metal God’s autobiography

As someone who became a Judas Priest fan not long after my dad brought home a newly-released copy of ‘British Steel’ back when I was a young teenager, and as someone who has known they were gay from around that same time I was particularly keen to read Halford’s memoir. There is a fair bit of revelatory gossip and down to earth black country humour but there are many segments that are deeply, deeply moving, too. One of the best rock biogs in ages.

Read full post here

Related post:

2019 in Darren’s music blog

Glitter, glam and Blackpool rock: interview with glam rock legend John Rossall

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.

Related post:

Album review: Rossall – The Last Glam In Town

“We were never about making the same album twice” – Led Zeppelin III: 50th anniversary interviews

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.”

Thanks to Greater Manchester Rock Radio. You can listen to the full hour-long programme on Soundcloud here:

Related post:

The night Jimmy Page asked if he could hang out with me

Photo Credit: cottage via Andy c/o Wiki

Fifty years of Lindisfarne – interview with founder member Rod Clements

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

Photo credits: Richard Broady

Related reviews:

Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival

Lindisfarne at Hastings 2018

Uriah Heep’s 50th anniversary – interview with Mick Box

Uriah Heep celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. An anniversary tour, like pretty much everything else this year, has now been rescheduled for 2021 but Greater Manchester Rock Radio’s Tony Charles recently caught up with Heep’s Mick Box to reflect on the band’s past half century.

In a fascinating hour-long programme that GMRR have shared with me for this blog, Mick and Tony takes us through the band’s entire history starting with the very early days and the band’s formation. The classic David Byron-fronted years of the early to mid 70s are discussed in some detail, of course, but Box’s reflections on the years that came after that are definitely worth hearing.

Talking about the late 70’s and the band’s temporary implosion following the release of the Conquest album in 1980, Box reflects: “I’ll tell you what it was. I think the writing got a bit too poppy. We started off as a rock band and then you got songs like ‘Free Me’ and ‘Come Back To Me’ and although they were good songs we didn’t really associate them with Uriah Heep if you like and I think a lot of fans fell by the wayside because we lost that rocking edge.”

Uriah Heep bounced back in 1982 with a new line-up and the Abominog album. Box looks back on that now as: “Very much an album of the 80s in its production, in its writing and everything and we had great success with it.”

In more recent years the band has returned to a more classic sound with the last album Living The Dream receiving heaps of praise. Box: “With Living The Dream we had a great producer Jay Rushton and what he did was he kept the heritage of the band and all the trademarks that the band is known for – with the five-part harmony and the wah-wah guitar, the solos, the Hammond organ – and he kept all of those elements but he had a wonderful way of blending them to make them sound very modern.”

Thanks to Tony Charles and Greater Manchester Rock Radio – you can listen to the full hour-long interview on soundcloud here:

Related posts:

Uriah Heep, London 2014

Uriah Heep at Giants of Rock 2018

Uriah Heep, Bexhill 2019

Are you an aspiring Radio DJ? Introducing Greater Manchester Rock Radio

Interview with singer-songwriter Dan Korn of folk/acoustic duo Dan Korn & Joe Sharp

Released back in July Polaris is the new album from singer-songwriter Dan Korn and classically-trained musician Joe Sharp. The two first worked together in 2010, collaborating on a number of releases. Polaris is their first release as a duo, although there have been hundreds of shows across the UK and Europe in recent years and a tour of the US. I caught up with Dan Korn recently to discuss the album, their work as a duo and next steps.

For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe Polaris and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?

Polaris is an album of ten new songs recorded live at Roedean Moira House Studios in Eastbourne. We see it as an intimate exploration of love and identity in the modern world.

We were keen to capture the raw energy of our live performances by recording the album live. We are the only two musicians on the album, though we play a number of acoustic instruments.

I have different favourite moments from time to time, but at the moment I am particularly fond of the track Idaho, which was conceived in a chilly tent in a campsite off an Idaho Highway. I toured in the US in the summer of 2016 and shivering in that tent was definitely a low point of the tour. It’s a hopeful song though, imagining a time in the future when my ex-girlfriend and I will be friends again and we’ll be able to sit on a park bench together and laugh at the past.

Another highlight for me is Joe’s song, The Promise, the final track on the album. It’s the only song I don’t play guitar on, which makes it both liberating and nerve-wracking to play live. It’s a beautiful song and a great way to finish the record.

This is your first release as a duo but you’ve worked together on a number of projects. How did you first begin working together?

We started working together back in 2010. I was going into the studio to record my debut EP, Dustbowl. We felt a couple of tracks would benefit from the addition of some brass. Joe was a friend of a friend and a trumpet player by trade, so we asked him to play trumpet and flugelhorn on the record. He did so with aplomb. We soon became firm friends and musical collaborators, though Joe has mostly played bass and supplied backing vocals since then.

And you’ve been performing live together as a duo for several years with hundreds of gigs behind you. Was it a conscious creative decision to wait for a while before releasing an album or was it just the way things turned out?

Our setup has evolved considerably over the years. In different configurations, we have recorded two EPs and one LP before this one. Between 2016 and 2018, I toured a lot my own and accumulated quite a few new songs. Joe had a couple of songs he wanted to record too. We were playing better together than ever, so it felt like the right time to enter the studio. For it to be a duo project felt like the most honest and authentic way to go about things at that time.

What have been some of your most memorable gigs?

In 2015, the full band went on a UK tour to promote the release of our Of The Sea LP. We were in Inverness, in a tiny venue with a miniature stage we were somehow all supposed to fit on with a drum-kit. It was a pretty rowdy audience. At one point during the set, we couldn’t help but notice a man’s glass eye fall out and roll across the floor in front of the stage. We watched him proceed to pick it up, blow on it and pop it back in!

The final concert of a tour often turns out to be a favourite. By this time, you’re in great nick because you’ve been playing so much. You’re tired of course, but there’s a feeling of throwing caution to the wind. You don’t have to get up and play again tomorrow, you can just enjoy it. In the days that follow, the post-tour blues will descend as you try to reintegrate yourself into humdrum life. The absence of the adrenaline you have grown accustomed to experiencing performing on stage can be quite difficult to deal with.

In recent years, we have loved playing house concerts, particularly in Germany, where there is a pretty well established scene. It can be a very intimate experience, where you can literally hear the audience breathing. You can’t get away with much. You have to be able to chat in between songs. It’s a really good way to develop your performance skills. I’d recommend it as a good avenue to explore for any singer-songwriter, learning his or her craft.

Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you.

At the moment, I’m really enjoying Cate Le Bon and Bill Callahan. I went to a Villagers gig in Rotterdam recently, which I found very inspiring.

Given the extremely positive reviews for Polaris when it was released in the summer what are your future plans now, both as a duo and as individual artists?

We’ve been working on another full band album for the last couple of years. It’s being recorded by our guitarist Bob Turley at his Cosy Studios in Kent, where we recorded Of The Sea. We each live in different places and have a lot going on, so it’s a good thing we’re not in any great rush to release it. We’re getting together over Christmas to review things and to work out what our next steps should be. It will be quite different from anything we’ve released before. Watch this space!

Polaris cover

Polaris was released on 19th July 2019 and is available via the duo’s website 

http://www.dankornjoesharp.com/

Photo credits: Carsten Bunnemann

Interview with Sweet’s Andy Scott

This is a longer full-length version of an interview piece that was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here

Ahead of their gig at Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion on December 21st Darren Johnson talks to the Sweet’s Andy Scott who, along with Brian Connolly, Mick Tucker and Steve Priest, was part of the classic 1970s line-up and continues the band to this day.

DJ: The Sweet are well-known for their glam rock singles but there was always a hard rock albums side to the band’s persona as well. Will both of those elements be represented on this current tour?

AS: Yes – more so on this tour than the last one. We’ve had a slight revamp of the band. This revised line-up is certainly more akin to that. A couple of younger guys who are, shall we say, keeping us on our toes again. I would never, ever recommend changing two members of a band. I remember reading an interview with Mick Fleetwood who I got to know in the 70s just before they went to LA and he was saying they were going out there not knowing where the future lay. And he even said to me let’s see what happens. Then I saw what had gone on about two years later and heard, basically, they were looking for a replacement for Peter Green and they’ve got Christine McVie back in the band. They just haven’t got a guitar player who can sing. And it came with the two of them. Stevie Nicks as well (as Lindsey Buckingham). And just look at the way that burst open. So, in my head, I’m thinking Pete Lincoln left to pursue this outfit he’d been using shall we say as a back-up tool to Sweet with two other lead singers from other bands . And all of a sudden that’s taking off and I could see what’s on the horizon. There’s going to have to be a choice made here. And I knew which way he’d probably go because he’d been playing bass and singing with us. And he’s now doing this – because he’s a terrific guitar player and he’s now with a team of people where they’re all in at the starting point. And I thought – well we’re going to have to replace him. Now luckily we had Paul Manzi on the back-burner because he had depped – he’d come in and done a couple of gigs for us so he was an obvious choice.

And then Tony O’Hora at the end of August the bombshell was, “I’m leaving.” And Bruce (Bisland – Sweet’s drummer) and I, who’ve known him for years, were like – oh God, not again. Because we’d had this with him a couple of times, only this time I said there’s only so much you can cry wolf – you know. So I said – I’ll accept it but you’re gonna have to tell me what’s going on. And he didn’t. And then we were doing a couple of gigs in Poland and the Czech Republic and he just walked. So we ended up doing a couple of gigs with my guitar tech on bass and we managed to get Steve Mann who’d been playing with Michael Schenker to come out and finish the dates with us. It was a revelation to see Paul Manzi standing there with no guitar in his hand as a lead singer so the first thing I had to do when I got back – there was was one person on my list of people to call and that was Lee Small. I rang him and he jumped at the chance and so we now have Lee and Paul in the band. And on a temporary basis – but it could become permanent – we have Steve Mann back in the band as the second guitar/keyboard player. And it’s really, really gelling. And now we’ve done three shows in Denmark, one or two in Germany and four in England. We’ve only done nine gigs and my son who’s my sound engineer – I have to take his word because the sound he gets out is always remarkable – he said ‘It’s the best it’s been, Dad’.

Clearly, the line-up change has given the band a new energy but has it led to a change in the set-list, too?

Yes. The driving force for the acoustic part of the set last time we toured was basically me and Pete. And we felt like we ought to go for a bit more like it used to be in the 70s when we did a festival set. You’d get down to the nitty gritty. You play a couple of the heavier rock tunes that people want to hear so that’s what’s happening. It’s a work-in-progress. There will be a new Sweet album next year and we’ll see where we go from there.

And you’re coming to Bexhill on the 21st December which is the last night of the tour. Is that last night of a tour always a bit special or a bit of a relief – or both?

Well it depends who’s around – but I usually try and get some of my mates and anyone who wants to come to the gig and sing a bit or play or whatever. You just never know what happens on a night like this.

The other surviving member of the classic 70s line-up Steve Priest has his own version of the Sweet in America. I believe you tried to get him to join you on stage for the band’s 50th anniversary last year?

I mean look – we can all be angry young men and even grumpy old men. I just don’t like the idea that you can’t mellow in later life. I just don’t know what gets into Steve once in a while. We have contact – every time that I go over to LA, which I do on holiday these days because we don’t do anything in America – he has changed the dynamic of that. He doesn’t do a lot either – but having spoken to a couple of friends of mine who are promoters and stuff in America I said I don’t want to come back there unless it’s as organised as the gigs we do in Europe. And it seems you need specialist help over there. The country is so big you’re not going to end up using your own equipment. Friends of mine in Uriah Heep still go out there and Mick (Box) says you’ve got to get a different head on.

So you’re in touch with Steve Priest but no chance of you performing together?

Well I think the moment has passed. At the end of 2017 I remember I wished him a Merry Christmas and I then said if something’s going to happen it’s going to be next year isn’t it? You know, the fiftieth anniversary of the inception of the band. And then I never heard anything. Then I got a message from him at the beginning of 2018 saying “We are getting involved with a new agent who thinks it might be a good idea if you and I did something.” And my answer to him was sod your agent what do you think about it? If you fancy doing it then we’ve got a starting point but to just do it because your agent says “you should do this, Steve” is coming at it from the wrong angle, I think. I could see where that was going. I would say yes let’s do something but all of a sudden all the rules and regulations come out. And really, if we’re going to do stuff like this, if he’s coming to Europe we have a collaboration and he does it the European way. And I go out to America and I do it the American way – as long as somebody looks after me. But there has to be some kind of continuity within the band as well. And one of the funniest things was a friend of mine from Germany who contacted him said “Would you be willing to come and do a festival?” And the first thing he said was “As long as I can bring my guitar player.” And so we laughed about that. And that never went anywhere. So now I’d much rather be in touch with him saying “Hello, how are you? How are the knees?” you know. And him saying “How are you? How’s your health?”

Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (writers of many of the hit singles for Sweet) obviously left a huge, huge impact on the band and left you with a slew of songs that people will always link to Sweet. Do you keep in touch with either of them?

Well yeah, I’m in touch with Mike because Mike is still a little bit of a mentor for Suzi (Quatro) and whenever I’ve been in the producer’s chair I talk to Mike about various things. He’s written songs that were on Back To The Drive which was one of her albums. And I’m hoping, because we’ve got a new album that’s coming out, that Mike and I might sit down together. A few years ago he was angling, “Well that could have been a Sweet single.” And we might be able to revamp or maybe write a song together. There’s a man who’s mellowed a little bit and kind of enjoying life again. And I’ve heard he’s back in the UK so, you know, all is possible. I’ve not fallen out with anybody. Life’s too short!

I always thought that Sweet missed a major opportunity for a come-back ion the early to mid 80s? Slade were back in the charts again. Queen were huge. Glam metal was taking off the States but it was the one time in the past 50 years that Sweet were AWOL?

Well you can look at it from all sides. Timing was absolutely everything. We’d reached a point in 81/82 where Steve was now living in America. He didn’t want to be in England. He didn’t want to come back. He feels, so somebody’s told me – I haven’t read all of his book he never sent me a copy – but it’s in there. I remember Mick Tucker saying to me “I don’t know where he got half of his stuff from.” but I said “Look it’s his personal view, Mick. You’ve got to let everybody have that.” It’s almost as if he’s forced to come back to England to record the last album in a studio in West London and he was put up in a hotel that was like a student hostel in Chelsea. And I thought well he stayed with me a little bit of the time and, yes, he was in that hotel for a while because, you know, it was easier and Mick had his problems with his first marriage. And it was a time when, I guess because we were still living our lives in England – this is the way he probably views it, at weekends we would take some time for ourselves and he would be left to his own devices. And any normal guy would be out having dinner with some mates you hadn’t seen for years but I guess he got the feeling that he was just being abandoned. So from that point of view, when the tour finished at the end of 81 – I think it was Glasgow University – we never heard from Steve for ages. He came back to England and it was that next year when Mick had a tragedy. His first wife died. It was a misadventure where she died in the bath. I think she had a glass of wine and was on some medication and he got back to the house and found her there. Well you wouldn’t wish that on anybody, would you? And so he didn’t want to do anything. And I was still out there – producing and writing and playing on other people’s records. And I managed to get a solo deal – first of all with Virgin then it turned out to be Statik. The guy from Virgin had left to form his own label. So for a couple of years – 83/84 – I was releasing some solo singles. And then in 85 – well at the end of 84 – I bumped into our old agent and he was looking after us in 81. And he said, “Oh I’ve got a bone to pick with you. I keep getting loads of enquiries. Are you still working with the Sweet? I didn’t know where you were.” And it just so happened that his office was literally up the Harrow Road from where I was living in Maida Vale.

Then you did the Live at the Marquee album?

Exactly. I managed to get Mick out of retirement. Steve was even at least saying the right things but Mick said ‘He’s not coming back’ so luckily I rehearsed a bass player. The guy who ended up in Sweet actually Mal McNulty. We were using him to rehearse and I said he may not be coming and he said “you’re a mate of mine. I love this”. And, of course, we went to Australia with Mal and the rest is history. We had Paul Mario Day as singer and Phil Lanzon who’s now with Uriah Heep on keyboards.

And with changes of personnel the band has continued to this day.

Yeah. We’ve had a few people come and go but when you look back over thirty-odd, almost forty years of reformation when you say you’ve had six singers hat doesn’t sound too bad really does it?

Other bands have gone through far more haven’t they. Probably Sabbath have gone through far more.

[Laughs]. Well they had a little concept going didn’t they? A new lead singer for nearly every tour.

You’ve had a couple of major scares with prostrate cancer and you’ve been open about that and done a lot for awareness through Rock Against Cancer. How are things health-wise these days?

Pretty good. In fact, I’m due another PSA test so I’d better get that organised hadn’t I? And the other thing is Rock Against Cancer will be coming back next year. It’s coming back on the 12th and 13th of September in the same venue in Wiltshire at All Cannings near Devizes. So it’ll be Rock Against Cancer 8. And it might well be the last one. We’re looking at the moment to see who can come back from previous years and making a real bonanza of a gig you know.

The Sweet play Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion on Saturday 21st December 2019.

Tickets: https://www.dlwp.com/event/the-sweet/

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Related posts:

News: All change at The Sweet

Review: Sweet 50th anniversary concert – Berlin

Review: Sweet live 2017, London and Bilston

Review: Rainbow and Sweet, Birmingham 2017

Review: Sweet, Bilston 2016

The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences

Review: Sweet at Dartford 2015

Review: Sweet at Bilston 2014

Interview: Darren talks Fag Ash and Beer with guitarist/singer-songwriter Jake Aaron

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jake Aaron released his debut EP in 2016 to plaudits from folk and indie reviewers. His debut album Fag Ash and Beer was released in September 2019, again to favourable reviews. I caught up up with him recently to discuss the album, some of the musicians he’s worked with, his choice of cover artwork and his teenage love for Iron Maiden.

You have managed to pull together a great line-up of musicians for your debut album? How did they get involved?

I was very lucky! My first songs in 2015 were just on acoustic guitar, but I had an idea last year for a jazzy piece “Give Me Your Horse” which needed a great Hammond player and trumpeter. I made some inquires in the jazz world and the names that came back were Steve Lodder for Hammond and Steve Waterman for trumpet. I contacted them and they both seemed to like the piece – maybe it was the time signature – and luckily they both agreed. I found the bassist Davide Mantovani and drummer Marc Parnell through Steve L. When I was recording the album this year, I felt some tracks needed building up so I asked the musicians if they’d come back in. They’re brilliant players. A couple of the tracks on the album are live takes, “Elvis Has Left The Building” and “New Mexico”, and you can hear how good they are.

Have you been taken aback by the positive response to the album or did you always know you had something special on your hands as soon as you began putting it together?

I’m not sure the album has mainstream appeal, but it does seem to have found a niche in certain music circles which is nice. It’s had some play on BBC Jazz Nights as well as Genevieve Tudor’s Folk Show. My biggest uncertainty was how the album would all hang together as it’s quite a mix of ideas. I just hoped it would somehow. I’ve had a small audience since my EP who seem to like what I’m doing, and it was good they stuck with me, too.

And given the response how come you waited so long to make your first album?

It’s quite a task writing a whole album, and partly it just took a long time to finish the pieces once I’d started. I wrote some of the pieces quickly, whilst others were like watching paint dry, waiting for missing bits of music or words. A couple of the tracks were quite fiddly.

In terms of the album title it absolutely does what it says on the tin – but do talk us through that album cover!

I was working on a very different cover but didn’t feel it was working and was pretty fed up with the whole thing. An old friend then texted me a picture of us playing guitar in his folks’ kitchen when we were about sixteen, smoking and drinking and I thought that’ll do. It tied in with the track “Fag Ash and Beer” and the acoustic aspect of the music. On reflection it possibly wasn’t my greatest idea of all time, and I don’t think it helped promote the music at all. I’m not sure it’s up there with Physical Graffiti. Then again it had personal resonance for me.

fagashandbeer-jake-aaron

Heavy metal clearly had a big impact on you when you were a teenager. That was what got me hooked on music, too, and I still love it alongside the more acoustic stuff. Are you still a fan?

I don’t put Run to the Hills on any more, but I still remember why I liked it. Maybe it’s a guitar thing and if I didn’t play guitar I possibly wouldn’t have got as much out of it as I did. Some of the guitarists are technical wizards. Eddie Van Halen was just mind boggling. Heavy metal aside I’ve always liked different styles of music, and I like a lot more styles than I dislike. A solitary bagpipe, African drums, a hillbilly picking a banjo … they can all do it for me as long as it’s got a groove.

Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you as a singer-songwriter.

There are lots of artists I love, but I am not sure which ones influenced me the most. Some of them are pretty inimitable. I also think it’s easier and more enjoyable trying to to play in your own way. I probably got bits and pieces from all over though, from every song and riff I learnt to play. You can’t play the intro to Hey Joe a thousand times and not be influenced a bit.

You have Guy Pratt contributing on one track on the album. How did that come about, and did he share any Pink Floyd tales with you?

No tales of Floyd, though I do know some of Guy’s great tales from my “My Bass and Other Animals”. I’ve known Guy for a long time through one of my best friends. I had an interesting cover for “Give Me Your Horse” of Pancho Villa and his gang holding instruments instead of rifles. The bass player looked particularly cool, like he was some legendary bassist, so Guy came to mind. I emailed him the piece, he liked it and quite remarkably he agreed. A massive honour.

What’s your favourite track on the album and tell us how it came about?

I’ve got a few but I think the instrumental “Elvis Has Left The Building” has a good vibe. It was originally an acoustic song but the band sounded so good I left it as is, like we were Elvis’s warm up band. After we recorded it, I was downstairs in the studio making a coffee and Kenny Jones, the engineer, and the others were playing it back upstairs. We had a busy schedule and when I heard it I thought “Why are they listening to that funk track on the radio? We should be getting on with my stuff!” I liked “New Mexico”, too. I was downstairs again when it was played back and Marc’s beat came pounding through the ceiling – it sounded like approaching Apaches. I was quite pleased lyrically with “Jonah Part 1”, too. It took a while to get it into a shape where it sounded colloquial without being too flip, and I could tell the story in a way I found engaging.

Give Me Your Horse Cover

The single cover art for 'Give Me Your Horse'

And, finally, given the positive reaction to this have you got plans for a follow-up?

I think I’d keep plodding on regardless of the reaction, but it’s good that some people like the music too. I’ll possibly release singles or an EP next if another album is too daunting. I’m quite interested in music for film. A couple of reviewers thought the music was quite cinematic and would fit a Tarantino movie. Clearly if Quentin wants to use a piece that would not be a problem!

Fag Ash and Beer was independently released on 6th September 2019

https://www.jakeaaron.com/