Performing since the 1960s in folk rock, traditional Irish and covers bands as well solo performances as a folk singer, in recent years Tony Burt has shifted his focus to writing and performing his own songs. Earlier this year his album People Watching was released to favourable reviews. I caught up with Tony recently to discuss the album, his passion for music and his thoughts on the contemporary folk scene.
After decades in the folk/folk-rock scene performing traditional material and covers reinventing yourself as singer-songwriter came relatively late in life. Was there any particular catalyst for that switch?
I moved in 2005 from the Birmingham area to Bromyard in Herefordshire. I’d spent many enjoyable years trekking around the country with Irish folk band, Dempsey’s Lot, mainly as an instrumentalist. Moving to Bromyard added an hour’s travel each way to most gigs. So I left the band and took the chance to spend less ‘music miles’ whilst focusing on more contemporary songs whilst doing more singing.
For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe People Watching and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?
The title track ‘People Watching’ is key to many of the songs. It was written in the Kings Arms in Cleobury Mortimer, near Ludlow 2 years ago over a couple of sessions. I enjoy observing strangers and inventing imaginary lives for them. ‘Monica Is Taller Than Me’ was based on respectful and relatively lust-free admiration of an elegant waitress in a Scottish Borders hotel. ‘The Village’ pays homage to the ethnic Chinese guerrillas who fought behind Japanese lines in Malaya in World Word II. ‘JJ’s Bar’ celebrates a rock music club in Karnak, Egypt, which has to be one of the quirkiest venues on the planet. Other songs can be more cryptic and emotional but observation of human traits usually plays a part.
I wanted to stay clear, just this once, of an excess of guitar, bass and fiddle so we use less common instruments like harmonium, dulcetone, mellotron and marxophone. Most of the tunes are modal in structure but the overall sound in not entirely folky. I think we evolved a sound that was a bit rootsy and almost Prog in some ways. Boo and Chris added really interesting seasoning on many of the tracks.
How have you found the reaction to the album? You’ve had some nice reviews. I’m very taken with it. It felt like I was stumbling across a long lost classic that had completely escaped my attention until now.
I have been really happy with the reviews and radio plays I’ve received. Some have provided really helpful constructive criticism which I am genuinely taking on board. I love your “long lost classic” comment and I can’t think of anything more encouraging. Thank you!
Irish music has always been important to you although you were born and brought up in Birmingham. Do you feel that’s been an influence on your songwriting now?
The Birmingham district of Balsall Heath, where I grew up in the 50s was in those days predominantly an Irish area. So as I grew up I became very familiar with Irish tunes and songs. At 15 I met my lifelong friend, Tommy Dempsey who had soon dragged me in every cobwebbed den of folk iniquity in the Midlands. He is still going strong at 82 and has the quintessential Irish voice. Many of my melodies have a Celtic structure and Tommy’s singing influenced my timing and phrasing.
Tell us a bit more about the two musicians you work with on the album? Have you been long-time collaborators?
Boo Hewerdine has been a well known producer, singer, guitarist and songwriter for 30 years. Known for his work with The Bible, Eddi Reader, Kris Drever, Brooks Williams and many others. Chris Pepper is owner of Saltwell Studios near Huntingdon. His reputation is growing as a result of his well equipped facility, high skill level and great attitude.
I’ve spent 4 or 5 weeks with Boo over the past 5 years at songwriting workshops. Other collaborators, in addition to Boo, have included Christine Collister, Steve Tilston, Karine Polwart, Edwina Hayes and Darden Smith. It’s fantastic how these talented artists share their knowledge and experience so readily. When I decided to make People Watching I could think of no one better than Boo and Chris to help me. The artistic results were great and we had a really good time too!
Who are your all-time favourite artists?
OMG – what a question!
My earliest influence was, almost inevitably, Bob Dylan. At the same time, the Beatles and the Kinks; John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim. Early songwriters: Richard Thompson, Al Stewart, Bruce Cockburn, Sandy Denny. Out of several dozen more – Elvis Costello, Dick Gaughan, Gerry Rafferty, Ralph McTell.
Are you encouraged by the number of excellent young folk artists out there these days after some comparatively lean decades in the past? And have you any particular favourites?
There is some wonderful new young talent emerging and it seems many are being groomed for sustainable folk music careers with coaching on financial and marketing skills. I know some excellent artists of my generation have lived hand-to-mouth for decades and I hope these youngsters can have a more comfortable life. Granny’s Attic are the young band I know best and admire hugely. I’ve known them since they were about 12! Some of the photos and Videos stashed away could be worth a fortune when their success is complete. Especially Cohen at 13 in his school uniform with a short back and sides performing “The Ship (off the new album) on fiddle. Sorry buddy!
People Watching was released in January 2019 and is available via Tony’s website
This article was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here
Steeleye Span are celebrating 50 years with an anniversary tour. Ahead of their gig at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November, Darren Johnson talks to founder member Maddy Prior.
DJ: You start your winter tour very soon. What can we expect from this fiftieth anniversary tour?
MP: Well we started in the Spring – this is the second part of it. We do some songs from our new album which is called Established 1969 and some classic pieces which are part of our catalogue if you like, so it’s a sort of a mixture. We always do a mixture actually.
One of the things that I like about Steeleye Span is that you vary your set-list from tour to tour. There are old favourites in there but they tend to be a different set of old favourites each time.
We try to keep it varied. If you sing a song for a long time you want to leave it to ‘green up’ as it were. You leave it fallow for a year or two so it sort of greens up again and you have a fresh look at it. And quite often we do slight readjustments of the arrangements and things like that. Sometimes we completely re-arrange them.
You’re at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November. Steeleye Span has had quite a connection with Hastings over the years, hasn’t it?
Yes we do. There’s Liam (Genockey) our drummer – he’s been here forever. And also now there’s Roger Carey in the band as the bass player – so there’s quite a strong connection. And we’re rehearsing here at the moment in Hastings. And also, of course, Peter (Knight) was here for a long time as well. So, as you say, we’ve got strong connections here and we always come here regularly over the years. It’s strong on our map!
For the benefit of our readers who might not have kept up with who’s in the band these days, can you quickly talk us through who’s playing in Steeleye Span these days?
Well, we’ve got some new blood as it were. Violeta Barrena is on fiddle for this tour. She shares the fiddle slot with Jesse May Smart, but Jesse’s just had a baby so she’s taken a back seat for this tour. They’re both brilliant players and they’re both really good improvisers. We’ve got Roger Carey on the bass, Spud Sinclair on guitar and Liam Genockey on the drums. Julian Littman on guitar and Benji Kirkpatrick on various things – guitar, sitar, mandolin. Julian plays keyboards as well, so there’s quite a lot of variety instrumentally. I think that’s everybody – now we are seven!
Can you see Steeleye Span carrying on without you at some point in the future, or would that be like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger?
I don’t know. I’ve no idea. But I think Steeleye is mainly about the material. A lot of which came in with Bob Johnson. Peter Knight brought quite a lot in. Rick Kemp brought quite a lot in. This new band – we’ve done another album of traditional material very largely – which we play around with. We write new tunes and get tunes from all sorts of places. But it’s the material that I think is the point of the exercise really.
So that suggests that there could be some form of Steeleye Span continuing without Maddy Prior?
Are you trying to bump me off?? No, it is something that’s talked about. If you think about it as a small family firm that could go on forever. Just getting to know how the material works is the issue if you like, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t.
Have there been times when being Maddy Prior folk rock icon has got in the way of other musical projects you wanted to pursue or are you happy it’s never stopped you doing anything else you wanted to do?
I don’t think it’s stopped me doing anything I wanted to do. It’s usually helpful on the whole. There’s nothing I’ve missed out on. We were on Top Of The Pops. That was the biggest thing of the day. And we’ve done a lot of tours of big venues and we’ve worked with material that I dearly love.
There aren’t many people on the folk circuit who’ve done Top Of The Pops. Was that a bit of a culture shock?
We had done a lot of work by then. Sell-out tours and so on – it wasn’t out of nowhere. We were well-known by the time we had those songs and we were on the same week as Noddy Holder and Slade, so that was quite interesting.
When you look around at younger bands – and a number say they’ve been influenced by Steeleye Span – do you feel optimistic about the future of the UK folk scene?
Absolutely. There’s so many brilliant young players. They’ve got their chops together fantastically well and they’re interested in the music and there’s a big movement, so it will be interesting to see what happens and where it goes. But the music comes in and out of fashion and we have revivals every so often, but it never quite goes away. Folk music became extremely unfashionable but that’s all it is – fashion. I’ve been literally right outside of the curve and then it comes back to the middle a bit. It’s part of our heritage and it comes knocking on the door every so often.
Ahead of the tour and particularly ahead of the gig in Hastings, is there anything else you’d like to leave us with?
The band is really, really good at the moment. I had a look at us on Wikipedia and it was brilliant because every so often it said “They came back to form” and I thought that was a hell of a good way of putting it. Because over fifty years you’re not going to be perfect all the way through and it’s been like that. But we’ve been very largely led by the songs so if the songs are good we’ve tended to be better. But we found with different people coming in, they bring different energies and different musical styles and that’s what we’ve been like in Steeleye – things change!
Steeleye Span 50th Anniversary Tour Thursday 21 November, 7.30m. St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings TN34 3AF. Tickets £26.95 including booking fee available from 01323 841414 and online.
On the day Burnt Out Wreck’s new album ‘This Is Hell’ is released I caught up with the band’s front-man and former Heavy Pettin’ drummer, Gary Moat.
So the new Burnt Out Wreck album is released today. Tell us about it.
Just carrying on in the same sort of style as ‘Swallow’ – the song itself, not particularly the whole album. More a straight-ahead kind of rock n roll. It’s a bit faster paced this album. We needed some of that to go live really. And we’re really looking forward to getting out there and doing it.
Did ‘Swallow’ kind of set the template for Burnt Out Wreck then?
Yes most certainly. It’s just my favourite style of music, you know. And that’s the way I write so I had to go down that path eventually in my life. So this is it. It’s just the best form, the most enjoyable form of rock I’ve ever heard in my life. So that’s why I had to do this.
On this album particularly because we’ve got all of the new band and obviously they’re playing on it live and yeah – it just sounds good because it’s not all come out of me this time.
Was the first album you bringing in different musicians then, before you created the permanent band?
I was doing it on my own and I said to Adrian (Dunn – guitarist) do you want to come in and have a go at this but it was just the two of us. I played drums. I played bass. I played rhythm guitar. But when you put a band together it becomes a different animal, you know. And it’s far better for it I must say.
Everyone obviously comments on the AC/DC influence when they see Burnt Out Wreck.
You know, everyone always goes on about Bon Scott and AC/DC and that’s obviously the first thing that comes to mind for them and I sing in that register. At 15/16 AC/DC were just the best thing in the world and Bon Scott was amazing. And so that’s why I sing like that, not because I wanted to copy what he was doing but just because that’s the way that my voice developed. And because I was listening to them my whole life, I suppose, I took it on in my head somewhere. There are other bands though. People forget about bands like Rose Tattoo and Krokus – Airbourne even. Some people try and have a little dig at you because your ‘copying AC/DC’ but you know all of these bands are copying AC/DC if you like. But they’re not really because they’re just blues rock bands. I keep going back to this but if you go back to bands that inspired AC/DC, you know the old blues players from America. You can’t distinguish who’s who. They’re all playing a twelve-bar blues and they all sing like each other. It was not that different in the modern era.
When did the desire to sing first emerge? Were you thinking about it back in the days you were drumming with Heavy Pettin’?
Yeah I get asked this a lot. It was there in me. I suppose it’s there in everyone to get up and have a sing. When I was becoming a teenager and started going to pubs and clubs I started getting up and singing with other bands, as well as being the drummer in the band I was in at the time. But when we started Heavy Pettin’ Hamie was obviously the choice for the frontman because I was a drummer. And I had no intention of being a singer. I didn’t want to do it. But the thing is myself and Gordon were the songwriters and Hamie was the singer so I was making the parts up… So I’ve always been singing and writing songs. But when Heavy Pettin’ split up I thought I’m going to do it myself this time. But it’s taken all these years to actually get in there and make my own style.
And, presumably, when you were writing the songs it started to feel more authentic to sing them yourself and express yourself in that way?
Oh yeah. It sounds better coming out of yourself. And people tell me that all the time, you know and that they appreciate it. They like it. And thanks very much to those people.
It was quite a gap between Heavy Pettin’ coming to an end in the late 80s and Burnt Out Wreck now – talk us through what you were doing in between.
I was writing songs, of course, and some of the songs that are on these two albums were written many years ago but not finished. Never finished until I was going to pick them up for the albums. Because you just scribble an idea down. You just get a guitar riff and put it on tape or whatever way back and you just leave it on the shelf. But I’d get around to them eventually. After the band split up way back in 1989 everybody went their separate ways and did whatever they did – got jobs, got married, had kids and just cracked on with life, you know. It took until 1992 for me and Gordon to put a band together called Mother’s Ruin and we played around for many years just on and off. We did gigs mainly around the Milton Keynes area. And then everyone went their separate ways again, going to uni and stuff. We had some younger guys in it. But some of the songs from that are on the first album. But they just sat there and eventually it got to a point where I thought I just hate these songs being left there and nobody’s heard them so I thought I’d put them out you know.
It must be nice to see those song titles finally being released.
Yes and with the first album we’ve had praise from all around the world. Everyone seems to love it and the second album looks as though it’s going to go the same way.
You’re supporting the Pete Way Band this autumn. And your old band was actually named after a UFO album. Did you know Pete from UFO days back then?
No. The only time I ever met Pete Way was 87/88 when we were recording the Big Bang album and Waysted were in the studio next door to us. I went to see UFO many times, of course. They were all big heroes and influences on all of us I suppose. He told me he really likes our stuff and obviously he’s looking forward to us playing. Yeah it’s just incredible that someone you think of as one of your old heroes thinks you’re good.
You obviously come across quite a few younger bands when you’re out gigging and doing festivals. Are you pleased to see this renaissance of classic rock and the so-called New Wave of Classic Rock? And are there any of the younger bands that you particularly admire?
We do a lot of these festivals and I’ve seen many people. I don’t actually listen to music. I just write my own stuff. I’m in my own little bubble and if I hear something then either instantly it’s good or instantly it’s oh never mind. There are some good bands. I especially like Scarlet Rebels who’ve supported us.
What can we expect from Burnt Out Wreck on this latest tour? Is it a mixture of songs from the two albums? Will there be any covers?
We usually play (Heavy Pettin’ song) ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’ but I don’t think we’ll be playing that any more. We’ve two albums worth now so we don’t need to be slapping that out now, even though it’s a big crowd pleaser and we’re certainly very good at playing it. But yeah we’re really excited and dying to get out to play live and to play some new material. Because we’ve been out on the road for three years, basically, and we’ve just been playing that one album. And we’ve been itching to get into the new one. We knew it was coming but I didn’t want to go out and play it until it was actually out. So we just waited and it will be a mixture. But more leaning towards the new album because er.. we just love it!
This interview was published by Get Ready to Rock here
It wasn’t that long ago that the only news we’d be reading about Pete Way was in connection with his various ongoing health battles. But now, following a well-publicised autobiography in 2017, he’s back on the road performing. A UK tour begins later this month and a new album ‘Walking On The Edge’ is due out at the end of January. Always a charismatic stage presence in his UFO days (the archetypal motionless bass-player mode was never one for him) one of rock’s most colourful characters and, improbably, one of the great survivors of to-the-limits rock ‘n’ roll excess is now back as front-man of his own Pete Way Band.
What can fans expect from the tour?
Wild rock – with a couple of ballads. For the shows there’s stuff from the album, stuff from The Plot – the album with Michael Schenker, there’s the Amphetamine album, I do a little bit from Waysted and I do the obvious songs, the ones that everyone remembers, from UFO. You know people buy a ticket and they want them. I was talking to Phil (Mogg) recently and he said the same: ‘you have to do them’.
Out of all the classics that you had a hand in for UFO which are the ones you are most proud of?
Oh that’s difficult to say really. We do ‘Shoot Shoot’. We do ‘Too Hot to Handle’, ‘Doctor Doctor’…
And so you’ve been getting a good response from audiences so far then?
Oh incredibly so, yes. I mean we go out of our way to do that. There’s no indulgent excess but people come along for a guitar show. I mean there’s a lot of lead guitar. Playing in UFO or Waysted there was also a lot of guitar. The thing is there’s nothing too egotistical. We just play the songs.
Do you play bass throughout the show or is it just certain songs?
Here and there. I could be 100% vocals or I could be 100% bass and get another singer in. But, you know, I wrote all the words when I wrote these songs. Apart from, obviously, the UFO songs where it was with Phil. You would have to give Phil a very precise melody and he would write the words as he saw it to fit – but I would give Phil the melody.
On the tour you have Burnt Out Wreck supporting you – another band with musician- turned-frontman in the form of former Heavy Pettin drummer, Gary Moat.
Yeah Gary is very talented. I mean, yes, I see the AC/DC influence but they write all their own songs. They compliment what we do. All my songs are about my experiences in life which is a bit like something from a Quentin Tarantino film. They balance that out with what they do.
You’re clearly still in touch with Phil. Could you imagine sharing a stage with UFO now?
Nah. My main focus now is on vocals. Everybody says to me you’ve got character in your voice and, you know, it seems to work so I’ve got to get on with it. My heroes are not the vocalists who sound like opera singers. They are people like Bon Scott and Bob Dylan.
Your autobiography ‘A Fast Ride Out of Here’ in many ways is that familiar tale of middle-class suburban kid becoming wild rock star. But the wildness started fairly early on didn’t it? You say in the book you first smoked heroin at 13, for example.
When I first met Phil I was, like, 15. The people we hung out with were the people who were older. It’s like David Bowie said – we did things that other people thought incongruous. But I felt comfortable in that role and in going into things with that attitude to life. But, of course, the icing on the cake was actually getting to America. Suddenly, we’d got money, you know. But we were professional in that we always gave a good show. Because if you’re in a shambles it’s always easy to mess up. But we were totally focused on the show and it was only afterwards when we’d get fucked up. It really was a journey. I could blow half a million in a year but, you know, we always gave a good show.
In your book Joe Elliott of Def Leppard is quoted as saying: “If you threw Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood in a bucket and mixed them up you’d end up with Pete.” Is that a fairly accurate description of you?
Oh, Joe and I go back a very long way. Myself and Ross Halfin are always having a bit of a laugh at Joe and, you know, he would say anything about people to go (adopts mock Yorkshire accent) ‘I’ll fucking get him back for that’.
After all the health battles you went through: addiction, cancer, heart attacks – there must have been times when you thought you wouldn’t be performing on stage again. What does it feel like to be out on the road again?
Great. It was three or four minor heart attacks but the prostrate cancer was the main thing. And you don’t know you’re ill until you find out from a professional. For me if I was feeling a bit under the weather I’d just have another drink or do another line or something but it gets to that point where you have to get checked out. It took me a long time to grow up. I still haven’t really grown up. And so it was a health battle of my own making. And now, ironically, I have to take medication because of all the drugs I used to take. But I’ve written some good songs and I’m looking forward to getting the album out there and getting out there with the show.
This interview was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here
I recently caught up with blues/Americana singer-songwriter Elles Bailey to talk about her newly-released album Road I Call Home, about the impact of her critically-acclaimed debut and about her current tour.
GRTR: Your debut album was fantastically well-received. At what point did you start to feel you had something really special on your hands? While you were writing? Or recording? Or mixing? Or not until you started to see the reactions and read the positive reviews?
EB: I guess it was when the critics and their fans got there hands on it and the reviews started to come in that I was like ‘hang on, I think folks are really liking this!’ I find it is really hard to be objective about your own music but I am really pleased that Wildfire got the reviews it did, across genres! That took me by surprise.
GRTR: You must have felt under quite a bit of pressure when it came to putting the second album together. What was your overall philosophy when it came to writing and recording Road I Call Home?
EB: Just be honest – I wanted to write an album that was honest, bare to the bones, not sugar-coating anything!
I guess there was a bit of pressure when it came to putting this album together but it was such a blur of a year I am not quite sure how it all happened! I’m currently sat in my managers office and looking at the vinyl…. And that’s weird, actually having it physically in my hand and thinking – ‘how the hell did this happen?
GRTR: What has the experience of co-writing with some of these iconic song-writers been like, compared to writing songs on your own?
EB: I love to collaborate when I write, its great being in a room with someone sparking off ideas and working with folks like Roger Cook, Bobby Wood and Dan Auerbach is kinda mind blowing. Every now and then I have to pinch myself just in case I am dreaming!!
GRTR: What’s been your most memorable live gig so far and how much are you looking forward to doing Ramblin’ Man in July?
EB: The album launch at The Lexington in London was totally off the chain. The album had been out a couple of days and had loads of people singing the words back to me! I felt like crying it was so emotional! I’ll never forget that gig!
Ramblin man….. I can’t wait and am so excited to finally see Beth Hart live!
GRTR: There’s a lot of different influences in your music – from blues to country to rock to soul. Name some of your favourite artists.
EB: Gosh I have so many but right now I am listening to Mavis Staples, Christ Stapleton, The Band, Larkin Poe, Hozier ( I love his new record) and Ida Mae to name a few.
Elles Bailey’s Road I Call home was released on March 8th. Review here
This article was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here
Interview by Darren Johnson
Next year iconic folk rockers Steeleye Span celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. 2019 will see a brand new album and associated tours as the ever-evolving band mark their half century. More immediately, however, there is the matter of an autumn tour. Lead guitarist, Julian Littman, takes time out of the band’s rehearsals to have a chat with me ahead of the first live dates next week.
“The band is in a really good place,” he enthuses. “It’s sounding great. And when it’s heavy it’s really heavy and when it’s light it’s nice and light, which is great. Because we do wander into prog a little bit as well so it’s a really good combination. The whole idea of the band is that we unite folk with rock. That’s what we try and do but never losing the folk tradition and all that stuff. So it’s in a really good place and we quite often do very old stuff from Steeleye and then, of course, brand new stuff. We do a couple from the Wintersmith project we did with Terry Pratchett so we go right across the board with it. And of course we’ve still got Maddy – thank god. And our latest addition is Benji Kirkpatrick who is a fantastic player – bouzouki, acoustic guitar and mandolin. And he’s the son of (former member) John Kirkpatrick. The tradition is going well. We’re now having people’s sons in the band you know. And it sounds fantastic because Benji keeps that acoustic thing going because we’ve got Spud Sinclair on electric guitar so it’s really good.”
Littman has now been with the band eight years and his creative input on recent albums ‘Wintersmith’ and ‘Dodgy Bastards’ has been widely praised. I ask him what it was like, not just being a newbie in a very established band, but a newbie who has actually gone on to put their own indelible stamp on the band, someone who has really made their mark on the sound and feel of Steeleye Span.
“Well, I like to think I have but at first it was really daunting. Really daunting – because I was following in the footsteps of Ken Nicol who is an amazing guitar player. But everyone’s different so the philosophy is like – you are different so therefore you are ok. But at first it was really difficult. Everyone was very welcoming but I used to get quite nervous really and think ‘oh god I hope I can do this’. And then gradually as I found my place you kind of find your feet. And then I started writing and now I sing a couple of lead vocals. And gradually the anxiety left and I could start to enjoy it and start to be relaxed – in that I wasn’t going to get fired and stuff like that. And it was a process. It probably took a couple of years to settle in and to find where I could contribute. So yes it was daunting to say the least when I first joined, but you do settle into these things and if people like you and they like what you do then gradually you get your confidence.”
The wonderfully prog-folky ‘Wintersmith’, the band’s acclaimed 2013 collaboration with the late author Terry Pratchett, deservedly received very positive reviews. For me, it stands up as not only one of the best Steeleye Span albums of recent years, but one of their best throughout their long career. I ask Littman if we are likely to see any similar literary collaborations in the future.
“Well obviously poor Terry – we have no more Terry. He loved the band, of course. I’m sure we will but not at the moment.”
Rather than seeing ‘Wintersmith’ as an entirely new way of working, however, Littman sees similarities with the way the band has always approached its material.
“In a way every song that Steeleye does is a literary collaboration because basically we take a lot of old ballads – as in tales of sorcery and witchcraft and incest and death and murder and all that – and we take them and it’s almost like collaborating with someone else anyway. Most of the songs are stories. Every song is a collaboration really because we rarely write things that are absolutely, completely original. For instance, in the new album we’re doing a John Masefield poem which is called Roadways. Because John Masefield was very fond of the sea and wrote a lot about the sea. So it’s about longing for sea. He’s saying my road, the right road for me, is the ocean. So that’s a collaboration.”
Littman clearly has a deep attachment to Steeleye Span and what it represents. I ask if he was always a fan of the band, prior to joining.
“Well I’ve sort of been by default almost. I’ve always listened to Steeleye over the years. I don’t think I bought an album, as such, but I was so aware of them. I hadn’t seen them live I have to say but friends had records and I used to hear them and so they are almost part of the DNA. If you like the folk rock thing Steeleye and Fairport are the two aren’t they.”
Of the Steeleye Span albums he doesn’t play on he singles out one from the mid 70s Mike Batt-produced era as his favourite.
“I would say I think it’s Rocket Cottage. They’ve done god knows how many albums and there’s something on every album that you go – ah I really like that one.”
Finally, before he gets back to rehearsals, I ask him what fans can expect from this latest tour.
“Well basically we’re not going to do any of our albums in their entirety because we did that last year. But we’re going to do three songs from the new album so there’ll be three completely new pieces that no-one’s ever heard. And then we delve back a bit. We’re going to do a couple of the epic ballads. We’re going to do some from the album Dodgy Bastards. And we’re going to do one we’ve never done before called Gulliver Gentle – verging on pop, probably the poppiest one. And we’re doing an a cappella piece written by Rose Kemp, Maddy’s daughter, and that’s called Reclaiming and it’s about reclaiming things for the future and ecology.”
As our chat draws to a close I tell him that one of the things I really like about Steeleye Span is that although they have a huge back catalogue every tour has a different theme and a different feel to it, whereas there are some bands of a similar vintage whose set-list changes very little from one tour to the next.
“We try and do that,” Littman agrees. “We always do try and keep it new and exciting and fresh or – play things that people haven’t heard for a long time. We always try and keep it going – keep it fresh, keep it exciting, keep it surprising sometimes.”
This interview was originally published by Get Ready To Rockhere
Jim Lea, the former Slade bass-player and one half of the mega-hit Holder-Lea song-writing duo, has a brand new six-track EP out: Lost In Space. I catch up with Jim to discuss the inspiration behind the title track and the other songs on the EP, to talk about his appearance at Wolverhampton’s Robin 2 venue last Autumn and, of course, to hear a few recollections from the old Slade days as well as the challenges that life throws up outside the world of music.
“Lost In Space was written deliberately as a pop song. Of all the songs I have come up with, this is one of my favourites. The ideas portrayed in the song are of someone spending their life living in an inner world, virtually oblivious to normal life. Some might say I have unwittingly written about myself,” states the press release accompanying the EP.
So often, introspection is portrayed as being sad and angst-ridden yet Lost In Space is a very uplifting song with a great catchy chorus. Jim has certainly lost none of his knack for writing catchy uplifting choruses. For such an upbeat song I put it to Jim whether there is a subtle inference here that being caught up in your own world can actually be a pretty happy place.
JL:“It is when you’re happy yeah but you have to find yourself first. You have to be happy with it. I think a lot of people do it to escape. It’s one of the autistic symptoms when people are being diagnosed. They don’t connect. I’ll tell you who came out and spoke about it – Chris Packham from Springwatch. Millions of people must have seen that programme about it. I’m sure I’ve got grains of autism in me but I’m nowhere near as bad as him. He just lives in a tiny little cottage in the middle of a wood with his animals. But to be quite honest for a big part of my life I was not a big communicator. I didn’t really do interviews at all. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I began to look at myself and went into psychotherapy and completely changed my personality. I almost changed my DNA.”
Is that partly why we are hearing more from Jim recently, I wonder. A new DVD, a live appearance at the Robin in Wolverhampton last Autumn and now a new EP. Are we seeing a new Jim?
JL:“Yes, yes. This is the new me. I’m obviously not bothered about talking to you at all. You seem quite a nice chap! I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. Whereas back in the day with the band for a long time I wasn’t. I was better off in the eighties and going into the nineties, but in the seventies I couldn’t cope with all that. If you look at the band there were two who wanted to get their face in the camera and two who didn’t. The idea of fame is very nice. You think that’s what you want but when it comes – well it took me all of a couple of weeks to think hang on I haven’t got a life here. You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t do anything. So a lot of people want that and they want that attention, whereas with me I wanted to go back to how I was before going on television.”
With that in mind I suppose when Slade were less in the spotlight in the late seventies that was OK for you, as long as the band were still gigging and recording?
JL:“That’s right. That was a good blueprint for me. That was great. And, of course, when we started having hits again in the eighties it was much easier to cope with because it wasn’t that mad teenage chasing-you-down-the-street type stuff.”
Lost In Space is a great catchy pop song. But the rest of the EP really rocks out. For me it seems to channel some of the spirit of Slade in the early 80s when the band had a comeback thanks in part to the heavy rock crowd post-Reading. Was it a conscious decision to go for a more rocky approach here compared to Therapy, your previous solo album?
JL:“No. The songs on this EP – I don’t know whether you know I had cancer – and these songs are from pre-cancer. They’re quite old. You can probably tell I’ve got a frog in my throat and I’ve never been able to get rid of that since I’ve had my cancer treatment. I’m not on the treatment any more but it just doesn’t go away. Luckily I’ve got some vocal tapes from god knows how many years ago that I just re-recorded quickly. Because my brother, who’s looking after me from the record point of view, says do you fancy doing an EP. He’d been talking to the record company. I said yes – four tracks? He said no, it’s six tracks for an EP these days. I said that’s half an album, when do you need it for? He said next Monday! But I did it because the songs were there. I had a vocal. I just slung everything at it and came up with what you hear.”
Live at the Robin
You took the stage at the Robin last November for a Q&A session to launch your new DVD (a live recording of his 2002 solo gig at that same venue) but at the end you surprise everyone when you come back on stage with your guitar to blast out some old Slade classics.
JL:“When I went off – we had a bit of a scam me and Paul Franks (radio presenter and interviewer that day) and he said Jim wanted to share something and he’s just going off. But when I got down there the people who are looking after the stage side of things they’re all chatting together. And I said what are you doing I need my guitar. Where’s my guitar? I was shouting at them and I was really in a bad mood and I said to the sound guy get out the front and get on the desk…. and it was at least three or four minutes before I came out. And there is some fan footage (and we are going to put that out) but just before I come on you can hear people saying ‘where’s he gone?’ Just coming over the microphones you know. And the audience I could hear what they’re saying. And this one female voice says (adopts exaggerated Yorkshire accent) ‘Do you think he’s gone for a lie down?’ Oh dear, it did crack me up that did. And to be quite honest that’s what I do a lot of these days. I have to go and have a sleep.”
It was his brother Frank who had encouraged Jim to do a few songs at the end of the Q&A.
JL:“You’d see these old singers like Frank Sinatra when they’re past it and their voice just cracks up and I said I can’t do that. And then I got this idea of knocking a few backing tracks up and I did some vocals to see what it sounded like. But I only did four tracks and then I thought hang on I could play along. And in this day and age that was my justification. I would have loved to have had the same line-up as the Robin in 2002 – just a drummer and bass player and really thrash it out. But that whole complicated thing with equipment for four songs meant we wouldn’t have even got the balance sorted out.”
Playing along to backing tapes it may have been but that didn’t dampen the outpouring of emotion from fans at the event, seeing Jim Lea playing on stage again, fifteen years after his one and only solo gig and some thirty-four years after Slade’s final UK tour. Jim only became aware of just how emotional the event had been for the audience, however, when his brother finally caught up with Jim and the rest of the family some time later that day.
JL:“All the family went for dinner and my brother was an hour late and we were all starving. Well he said he stayed ’til the end. Nobody wanted to go. People were crying. And the boss of the club came over and my brother asked him why is everybody crying? Why won’t they go? And as the boss was walking towards him he saw that he was crying as well!”
While he is thoroughly bemused at the emotional audience reaction it has clearly made him ponder on how much he enjoyed playing on stage.
JL:“I wish I could find some way of getting on stage again. That would be really good. But you know I was very tired when I played the Robin in November.”
Coz I Luv You
From recent ventures we then delve back into the early days. I mention that he was one of the first to bring the electric violin into a pop-rock setting. Given that this was around the same time the folk rock thing going on I ask if he was conscious of what people like Dave Swarbrick were doing with Fairport Convention around the same time as Jim was putting a violin solo on Coz I Luv You.
JL:“Well I used to play the violin on stage. Really it was the band trying to stand out and I think it was about the end of the sixties and you are quite right about Fairport Convention and Dave Swarbrick and there was East of Eden and Dave Arbus. And that guy played on The Who’s Baba O’Riley on the Who’s Next album. In the studio Pete Townsend came walking through. I was there messing about with my violin and he said here mate can I look at your violin. And I said I’m not giving it to you. You’ll smash it up. No mate that’s just stuff on stage. I don’t do any of that. Can I have a look? I want to play a violin. And the next thing I know it’s on Baba O’Riley with Dave Arbus playing. But with Coz I Luv You we’d had Get Down And Get With It as our first hit and it was about coming up with the next one. Because Get Down And Get With It was an everybody-join-in type thing I thought to write something like that is just going to be a cop-out. So I thought about bridging the fact that we were going to make a pop single with trying to make it a bit gritty as well. So I came up with (sings melody) and I got my acoustic guitar and I went over to Nod’s. I’d never written with Nod before and really it was like trying to get the singer on board so it’s kind of political in case it was a ‘well I don’t want to do anything with a violin’. That’s what could have happened but it didn’t. And we worked on the ‘I just like the things you do’ bit and obviously I knew that this was going to be really big. And it was and it got to number one within three weeks. And it’s only recently where people have said I saw Jim Lea from Slade with an electric violin playing on Top Of The Pops and that’s why I started playing violin. And you know it’s really edifying to think that you might have set some trail for something that happens in the future.”
While Jim is not exactly comfortable with his former band’s often outlandish image, there is clearly pride at what the four of them achieved together back in the day.
JL:“And the other thing with the band was because of our sort of wacky image which we kept going on with for too long. Well not we but Dave did. You know look at Quo back when they did Ice In The Sun and they changed the way they looked to do a different thing. Same as the Beatles changed but you know that never happened with us. But there was something from the wacky side of it and because we were having hit singles. Back then if you were having hit singles you were a pop band and we weren’t a pop band. I mean we could always blow off anybody we were playing with. OK there wasn’t the musical virtuosity in the band but it was a fantastic band. And together – you can forget the recording and all that because you can always mess around with that and try to make it sound a bit more sort of credible – but there was something about the four of us playing when we were on stage. And we went to that big studio at Olympic. Get Down And Get With It was the first thing we ever recorded in that studio. And we always went to that studio because it was like doing a gig and we were comfortable with that because we were really bloody good. And I look at people now and you know big names and so on and they all came out to watch us… But we were something special right from the first few notes we ever played.”
With so many insights we then get on to the topic of autobiographies. We’ve seen tomes from all the other three members of Slade but I put it to Jim that many Slade fans would say that the most fascinating and revealing of all would be a Jim Lea autobiography.
JL: (Laughs) “At times I thought about doing it. In fact, I was probably the first one to think about doing it. That was back in post-Reading days. But there seemed to be a reaction that I shouldn’t do that and that if there was going to be any book it should be a Slade book, not me. So I just left it and then Nod did one – which I’ve never looked at and Don did one which I’ve never read either but it’s supposed to be very good I’ve heard. The thing is I’d want to write it myself rather than sitting down with someone with a tape machine. You’d have to be able to taste it and smell it. If I’m talking about the smoke-filled rooms you’d have to be able to visualise from the words what that was like. The way it used to hang in the air in these grey layers.”
Jim also emphasises that his life hasn’t just been about music, particularly in the post-Slade years.
JL:“My musical career has been punctuated by having to look after my father to save my mother because he was driving my mother mad. He’d got dementia and then there were two or three years with my (older) brother the same thing happened and I was on care duty for both. So that’s six year’s gone and now my mum herself is housebound. I’ve just come from her now and I’ve always thought being of service to others is a big thing to do in life. It’s hard work because you have to give up your own wishes and your own life. You have to hand over what you want to do in order to help the person that needs the help. So being of service it’s a big thing. So with my mother as well it’s probably seven years gone. She became ill about a year ago and so put it all together you’ve got a whole chunk of life that’s nothing to do with music.”
For all of his musical legacy it’s clear that family is very important to Jim and you get the idea that there is no way he would not have been there for those who needed him most. But it’s also clear that Jim Lea still has something to contribute musically and is enthusiastic about his latest EP. He doesn’t even baulk at the round of promotional interviews that need to be done these days as long as, given his current health, there are not too many of them.
“I’m alright with you today, Darren, because I’ve only got you today – but the other day I had fifteen!”
Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld
This interview was originally published by the Get Ready To Rock Website here
Some bands, regardless of how big they they are, what size venue they are playing or how many albums they have released just manage to grab you straight away with hard, punchy, instantly memorable rock tunes. When I wandered into Hastings’ historic rock pub, The Carlisle, with an old friend last summer I was immediately taken with the band who came on stage a few minutes later – Diggeth.
It’s all down to the “acoustic guitar test” claims guitarist and lead singer, Harald: “Everything we write we always have a criteria. We must be able to play it on an acoustic guitar. That’s the test. Because it is very easy to write all kinds of guitar riffs and string them together and on electric guitar everything sounds big. But we always do the test, grab an acoustic guitar and sing into it. Is there a song?”
Diggeth are Harald te Grotenhuis (guitar/vocals), Alco Emaus (bass) and Casper Bongers (drums) and are a metal three-piece from the eastern side of the Netherlands. I catch up with the band in after a sound-check prior to a return to the Carlisle stage later that evening as part of a UK tour.
Citing influences like AC/DC, Metallica and Lynyrd Skynyrd, songs like ‘Kings of the Underworld’ and ‘See You In Hell’ (from the band’s last album) have all the hallmarks of classic metal anthems and stand up well alongside those of much better-known bands.
They explain a bit more about the process behind them.
Harald “We jam a lot together. We are really a jamming band. I guess like the classic bands did. It’s not that difficult to come up with all kinds of intricate guitar riffs but the thing is to write something you can sing over. My wife is my best critic. Sometimes I play her a song and sometimes she says to me well it’s still in my head after a day or two and sometimes she says nah I’ve completely forgot about it. Sometimes we come together and write something on the spot. Sometimes it’s something I’ve worked on for days or weeks.
Casper: “We spend a lot of time jamming together with the three of us getting the sound, the bass, the whole dynamic.”
Alco: “We have a certain frame that we work in and we have a certain sound. That’s the starting point.”
Harald: “We always try to keep it as simple as we can. We’ve played in bands before and we were always gluing stuff together you know, riffing: A riff, B riff, C and here we’re gonna do a break but that to me is like a puzzle. If you listen to a classic band like the Beatles or the Stones or Creedence Clearwater Revival they have memorable songs. It’s the same thing with playing a guitar solo. You can play a lot of notes and do all kinds of techniques and it’s amazing if you can do that. But to me the best is if you can play a melody that sticks in your head. So that if you are on your bicycle to work tomorrow morning and you whistle that melody that’s the thing for me.”
Alco: “In a three-piece band the drums and the bass have to be tight, all together. So Harald can do his singing and when he plays a solo we go to the back of the sound a little bit but we still provide solid bass and drums.”
Harald: “What I like about it is sometimes I come up with stuff and as soon as he starts playing the bass to it and the drums come in nine times out of ten we have already started to simplify it. OK I came up with something and it’s already too much – bring it back to something that is memorable and sticks. There are many bands that play music and you have to listen a couple of times before you get it and we sometimes do that, too, but I also like it something that grabs you.”
Casper: “When the first note is like woah!”
Diggeth has been around since 2004 but Harald and Alco have been playing together in bands even before that, for around 17/18 years now. Casper, a couple of decades younger than the other two, is the new boy in Diggeth. Becoming a member two years ago was something of a dream come true for him.
Casper: “I first saw Diggeth when I was 13 and I was like wow! What the fuck is this? I was so excited. I had been playing drums and at home in the basement with the drum-kit. I would put on the first LP and play along with it. And I went to every show with my neighbour in my home town and one time, one new year’s day I think, they asked they asked me to join them for a jam in the studio, just for fun. Then about five years later I was with the band as a stand in drummer. Twenty songs and one week to learn them…”
Alco: “We recorded our last album ‘Kings of the Underworld’ and we got a lot of gigs lined up to promote the album -big ones, small ones and some festivals. But then our drummer decided to quit. We asked Casper to help us out and after two or three shows he joined us officially.”
Harald: ”With a three-piece band everything just has to be right, especially the drums and the bass. It gives me as guitarist and singer a freedom to do all kinds of stuff. It has to be spot on. Since we have had Caspar in the band it’s given us a lot of energy. It’s like wow things are taking off. We are playing a lot more gigs. We have just finished the basic tracks for our next albums. We have recorded ten new songs. We built our own studio last year. That gives us a lot of freedom. And now all of a sudden there are labels and bookers that are interested.”
Alco: “We are getting noticed.”
This is the band’s second tour in the UK, following an initial series of gigs last summer where I first encountered them
Harald: “We played our first gig [of this tour] on Thursday in London and there were people in but they we in the corners and we said OK let’s see what happens when we start to play people were like woah what’s happening and all of a sudden there were all the people in front of us. Everyone was paying attention.”
Alco: “We try to make a show of it.”
Harald: “The people who gave us feedback afterwards were like ‘wow there is something happening between the three of you – it’s good music but it’s also great to watch’ and I think that’s the biggest complement you can get as a band.”
Casper: “Obviously being a rock fan and a metal fan I feel very humbled to be able to come to England with Diggeth and play. All those famous bands that originated here it’s like wow we’re in England.”
Alco: “I never imagined when I was young that at 40 I would be in England, playing with a band playing the music that I love to play. Yesterday someone told us that the place we at in Reading Motorhead had played here and Iron Maiden. And we were like are you kidding me? Amazing.”
Harald: “If someone would have told me thirty years ago that in thirty years you will be playing in England and you will be playing clubs were like Iron Maiden had played I would have gone insane probably.”
The band’s third (as yet untitled) album will be released later this year.
The Stretch Report are rapidly becoming the go-to support act for rock giants when they visit the south west of England. After well-received performances opening for Uriah Heep and then Wishbone Ash the band are now scheduled to support the latest reincarnation of The Grateful Dead – Live Dead 69, who are performing with original keyboard player, Tom Constanten, in Exeter on 29th January. Not bad for four middle-aged guys from Plymouth who got together four years ago when they met up at a friend’s funeral.
The band are Rob Giles (aka Razor) guitar and vocals; Ian Cooke – guitar and vocals
Chris Moss – drums; and Gary Strong – bass. I catch up with three of them. Bass player, Gary, is currently in New Zealand but the rest of the band assure me he’ll be back in time for the Dead gig.
Rob works at Plymouth University in IT and research, Chris is in open-cast quarrying on Dartmoor and Gary lectures in paramedicine. Ian chips in that by contrast he is “the full-time rock-star of the band” but he also does a bit of painting and decorating on his days off from being a rock star. The four had known each other for years and had played in various bands over the years but met up at an old musician friend’s funeral in 2012.
Rob: “We talked about getting together for a jam and we met up and it gelled.”
Most part-time musicians getting together to form a new band at their age may be content simply playing the pubs and having some jam sessions together. But The Stretch Report set their sights higher and it’s clearly paying off. The band got a major boost being offered a slot supporting Uriah Heep at the Cheese and Grain in Frome back in 2013.
Ian: “Uriah Heep was our first really big gig. It was nerve-wracking before but we had a packed venue and the energy came out of the audience. It was very, very positive.”
Chris: “We learnt a lot from that gig that we didn’t know beforehand and I think we tap into some of the ethos of those late 60s/early 70s bands by not being over-rehearsed and having some spontaneity.”
More recently, the band supported Wishbone Ash when they played Tavistock in November.
Rob: “The Wishbone Ash gig went really well and the band were very generous and gave us a shout out when they came on. Then the Grateful Dead thing came off the back of that. We are really looking forward to playing Exeter. It’s a privilege to play alongside these big bands.”
The band’s musical influences are wide and varied but a little-known late 70s Stiff Records single “Police Car” by original Motörhead guitarist, Larry Wallis, came to provide a unifying template for the embryonic Stretch Report when they first got together.
Rob: “I wanted to do ‘Police Car’ even before the band got together. I’d heard it on a Mojo compilation of 70s tracks you should have heard of but haven’t.”
Ian: “That song gave us a sense of purpose. It gave us a thread we could follow musically.”
The band recorded a video of ‘Police Car’ back in 2012 and their version has won favour with the song’s original creator.
Rob: “Larry Wallis said he liked our version and gave us his blessing. He hopes he can finally earn some royalties out of it.”
Perhaps one of the reasons why the band has gone down so well with classic rock audiences is the wide variety of rock influences they bring to their music. Certainly, there’s a spiky, punky edge to some of their music but there is much more as well.
Chris: “Punk and new wave were big influences, especially The Clash and the Damned. But we all share a passion for rock in all it’s guises, from prog to punk.”
Ian: “Motown, soul and glam was the music I listened to growing up and then punk. I got my first electric guitar just as punk came out but thanks to one of the members of the band I was in at the time, I was also listening to Hendrix and Cream as well.”
Rob: “Music is a voyage of exploration. As a teenager I would go to second-hand record stores and buy old albums simply on the strength of the cover art. I would discover all kinds of different music like that. One of the albums I found was Mad Shadows by Mott The Hoople and Mott and Ian Hunter have been major influences ever since.”
Ian: “As for Gary. He saw the Clash in 1981 on the same tour as I first saw them. You know straight away then that he gets it and we were on the same page musically. Gary has a really nice retro warmth to his delivery on bass. A nice fat vintage Glen Matlock-type sound. Neil Finn is a big influence for him, too”
The Stretch Report’s live act includes covers of songs from the likes of Robin Trower, Mick Ronson and Roxy Music, as well as the aforementioned ‘Police Car’. But one of the band’s originals, ‘Six Degrees’ written by Rob, has proved to be a crowd favourite. “That’s gone down even better than the covers,” confirms Ian and a professionally-shot video of that song will be available online shortly.
So what of the future?
Rob: “I’d love us to do a festival. I think we’d be a fantastic festival band. But if you’re talking about the next major act we’d like to open for, I’d love us to support Ian Hunter and The Rant Band.”
Chris: “I’m keen we go into the studio and record an EP. We’ve got two or three original tracks we can work on.”
Ian: “Getting the video out is important so I’m looking forward to that. It’s shot by the same guy who did the ‘Police Car’ video for us. But I also always look forward to us playing together. The fact that we are very old friends, not just a random bunch of musicians that have got together, that helps – that we know each other well and we know each other’s quirks.”
A band with bags of experience, bags of enthusiasm and who are building a reputation as a reliable support act for some of the biggest rock icons of the 60s and 70s, The Stretch Report are well worth keeping an eye on.
The Stretch Report play the Exeter Phoenix on 29th January supporting Live Dead ‘69. Tickets here