Kent-based blues rock band, Big River, have been picking up airplay left, right and centre along with a slew of glowing reviews for their latest EP. Deservedly so, Beautiful Trauma is a very classy release. As the band acknowledge, they’ve been on something of a journey since their debut album, Redemption, was released back in 2019.
Bass-player, Ant Wellman, departed recently to be replaced by Simon Gardiner but the biggest change has been the acquisition of front-man, Adam Barron, who replaced original vocalist, Adam Bartholomew, back in 2021. Barron had already made an impact as a contestant on TV’s The Voice, and was snapped up by Mick Ralphs for his own solo band, the Mick Ralphs Blues Band, prior to Ralphs’ debilitating stroke putting an end to that. I’d witnessed Baron in action with Mick Ralphs a couple of times previously, and once with another ex-Bad Company alumni, Dave Bucket Colwell. And I’ve been following the career of Big River with interest ever since they first formed so when the two joined forces it seemed like a match made in heaven to me. And this EP is definite proof of that!
As drummer, Joe Martin, says: “These songs have been performed live and have gone down a storm with all audiences. Through the changes Big River have maintained their thunderous live sound, but it’s that bit sweeter. The future is bright.”
‘Don’t Hold Out’, with its upbeat acoustic passages (courtesy of Barron on ukulele), a blinding guitar solo from Damo Fawsett and its summery vibe opens the four-track EP nicely, showcasing Adam’s Barron’s soulful, bluesy vocals to perfection.
The band then come in hard and heavy for the next track ‘The Long Way’, a great slice of meaty, classic rock which is then followed by another rocker, ‘Slow Burn’, with its striking, jaggedy riff, superb bass and powerful energy. The band then take things down a notch for the final track and the EP’s title rack. With shades of Free and early Whitesnake, ‘Beautiful Trauma’ is everything you could ask for from a classic blues rock song: soulful, emotive, anthemic, with some gorgeous guitar and vocals to die for, not to mention meaningful, relatable lyrics.
Now at a pivotal point in their career trajectory, Big River have delivered an EP of pure class. Anyone with any love of classic-era blues rock is urged to buy Beautiful Trauma right now. You will not be disappointed!
UK blues rock band, Big River, release their new 4-track EP ‘Beautiful Trauma’ on all platforms for digital download and CD on 19th August 2022.
The track listing for Beautiful Trauma is:
Don’t Hold Out
The Long Way
Formed in 2016, Big River have been on a journey since their first album, Redemption (released in 2019). The band have been developing new material and new ways of writing, performing and collaborating. With a new singer and bass player Big River have now put together a new EP of fresh material which shows this progression.
Big River are: Adam Barron (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Simon Gardiner (bass), Joe Martin (drums / backing vocals).
Lead vocalist, Adam Barron came to prominence as a contestant on UK TV show The Voice and went on to secure the lead vocalist position fronting Mick Ralphs’ Blues Band. Sadly, that venture came to an end with Ralphs’ debilitating stroke but Adam teamed up with Big River last year. One of the finest blues rock singers around today, he is the perfect fit for Big River as the band move on to new heights.
Announcing the new EP, drummer, Joe Martin, says:“These songs have been performed live and have gone down a storm with all audiences. Through the changes Big River have maintained their thunderous live sound, but it’s that bit sweeter. The future is bright.”
Big River are currently on the road in the UK promoting the EP until the end of the year when they will head back into the studio to start recording a full album.
Beautiful Trauma is released on 19th August on CD and all the main digital platforms.
A year on from the release of his well-received debut album last year, Sussex-based singer-songwriter/musician, Tim Izzard, has a brand-new EP out. 21st Century Exposé builds on the themes explored in Izzard’s debut album, Starlight Rendezvous, an album of original songs inspired by David Bowie in at the height of his Ziggy period. 21st Century Exposé is a full-on celebration of the glam era in all its glory and the sparkling, luminous trail it has left across music of many different genres over the past fifty years.
Tim Izzard:“Starlight Rendezvous had its origins very much rooted in Glam-era Bowie. The follow-up EP, 21st Century Exposé further celebrates the man and the old and current glam scene, mixing up old school new wave, power-pop, glam, neo-glam, futuristic ballads and a slice of cabaret to muse on twenty-first century living.”
The lead song on the new EP is the wonderful ‘Glam Rock Star’, a tribute to glam rock’s first half-century – a genre that is still influencing music today.
Izzard: “Whilst it is recognised that T. Rex’s 1971 No.1 Hot Love gave birth to UK glam rock it was in 1972 that it escaped into the playground with Bowie, Roxy, Alice Cooper, Mott, Slade and many others pushing the musical and make-up boundaries! I still remember vividly watching an alien Bowie perform Starman on TOTP and later on the futuristic , 50’s throw-back of Virginia Plain by Roxy Music. Fifty years on and there are still many bands and artists producing new glam and neo-glam music such as the UK’s The Voltz, Sweden’s SilverGlam and, in the US, Creem Circus and Gyasi. Like the influence of Bowie on my music you can hear Bolan’s vocal, Mick Ronson’s guitar or the wall of sound of Slade and much more in the ‘New’ Glam sound.”
Six-track EP ‘Little Lore’ released 3rd December 2021
“It is clear every word and every note is well thought out. The pedal steel swoons beneath Duffy’s vocals” – Maverick magazine
Little Lore is the new alter-ego, creative endeavour and debut solo EP from Indie-Americana singer-storyteller, Tricia Duffy. Tricia rapidly caught the attention of the Americana world as one half of the duo Duffy & Bird. The duo’s debut album and follow-up EP attracted a slew of glowing reviews, with Maverick magazine heaping praise on Tricia’s vocal ability as “simply breathtaking.”
Now she sets out on a compelling new journey as Little Lore, with an EP of six newly-written, beautifully-crafted songs. Storytelling is always at the heart of Little Lore’s song-writing and her songs are both charmingly accessible and yet beguilingly challenging.
Little Lore:“It actually felt like a natural progression to start working on solo project, I am immensely proud of everything we achieved with Duffy & Bird but my confidence as a writer has definitely grown and I felt ready to take more creative control over this record.”
When you combine British wit and wordplay with cherished Americana roots, musical magic starts to happen. In her songs Little Lore brings together an affection for the heart and heritage of Americana music, with an intelligence and maturity of storytelling that can sweep you away into new and unexpected emotional worlds. While several of the songs are built around those familiar Americana themes of love, heartache and relationships, two of the songs on this new EP grapple with the complexity of climate change and our responsibilities as humans to one another and to the planet.
Little Lore’s captivating vocals and beguiling storytelling is complemented by stunning production and beautiful instrumentation from producer and multi-instrumentalist, Oli Deakin.
Little Lore:“In some ways, 18 months of isolation and lock downs has opened up huge opportunity for me as a writer, I’ve known Oli for over a decade and realising we didn’t need to be in the same country to collaborate was genuinely inspiring. He is an incredibly gifted producer and musician and he knows my taste and sensibilities in music really well, so we were very creatively aligned right from the start which made the whole process a complete joy. He is also extremely patient and has an uncanny knack of translating my ideas into reality.”
Based in Chiswick, west London and originally hailing from Portsmouth, Tricia Duffy started her singing career in a live covers band performing popular rock classics. Over time, however, a strong desire emerged to begin writing and performing her own material and she formed an acoustic Americana duo with fellow musician Al Bird. Her trip to Nashville for a writing workshop in 2017, with songwriter Verlon Thompson and others, meant she came back with new inspiration and a clutch of new songs. Duffy & Bird released a well-received album ‘5 Lines’ in 2017 and a follow-up EP ‘Spirit Level’ in 2019. While Al subsequently decided to take a back seat from recording and performing, Tricia was keen to take things a step further with a new solo direction. Little Lore was born.
Little Lore EP – track by track:
Thief: When I originally set out to write the songs for this record, I had the notion of writing an entire album on the topic of climate change – it turns out that was pretty difficult to do! This song came about, as I tried to think about what the character of the industrial revolution would be if they were personified. In this instance as the unwitting thief. I took inspiration from the likes of Sheryl Crow who is an absolute master of mixing songs with a point with a great melody. It has a folky upbeat vibe to it. Musically I was inspired by the likes of First Aid Kit who I adore. It is a little shining star of a song in my opinion – it has turned out so much better than I could ever have imagined.
Skin in the Game: I actually got the idea for this song when I was running along the river in 2019 and I saw someone reading a book with the title Skin in the Game. I think it is actually a book about cricket judging by the front cover! Clearly this is not a song about cricket … it’s an observational song about relationships and touches on the profound differences between men and women and what they want from relationships. There is also some quite significant inspiration from Bowie in the lyrics … prizes to anyone who spots the references. The production on this song is quite layered and dynamic and feels very accessible while holding on to the indie alternative americana vibe. It is good to get this one out there having sat on it for a couple of years.
Orbit: I was actually a little bit unsure about this song, I was trying to write a more typical love song which I struggle with as I feel I can tend towards cliches in the lyrics. I put this one in the mix when first starting to work with my producer Oli and it was him that said he thought it had great potential. It has a very typical Americana / country feel to it. Originally written in 4/4 time, Oli thought it sat better in 3. I have deliberately not shied away from writing songs in 3/4 or 6/8 on this record. Half the songs are in 3 and half in 4. The American vibe swings so nicely with the waltzy feel and the sentimental subject marries well with that feel.
Sleep Again: This song is really about what happens to people when they become truly informed about the horror of the climate emergency and how it will impact all of us. We saw it so clearly during the climate assembly in the UK earlier this year, when a hundred or so individuals from all walks of life were educated on the issues, and how they transformed their views and their behaviours accordingly. Once the genie is out of the bottle it can’t be put in and I liked the play on climate anxiety too – can you sleep again once you understand the impacts on so many innocent people from the rising temperatures? The production treatment we were aiming for is a lullaby feel I love the idea of taking pretty melodies with beautiful musical treatment on the bleakest of topics. I think this song has the most indie / alternative feel to it while holding on to the Americana roots.
Hyacinth: This is a song about choices, that we all make every day so that we can conform to social expectations. I guess there is a little bit of Hyacinth in all of us, and I am secretly enjoying my own boldness of the references to a certain 80s sitcom! It has a pretty strong rock- americana feel and it is really the chords and the groove that have made this song. I hope this is a song that anyone who likes a jog will put on their running list, it really zips along and can get the foot tapping.
Stars: I have wanted to write a song that touched on spirituality in some form for a while but couldn’t find a premise that suited my own truth. It seems that astrology is having a bit of a cult resurgence at the moment with apps like The Pattern coming onto the scene. And I got thinking about times in my life when I have read my stars and the stars of the people I care about even though I don’t actually believe in them – there is a desperation there. The idea that even though you don’t believe in the horoscopes yourself you are so desperate to learn anything about the person you are missing that you devour the mystic’s analysis of what they might be going through. Looking for clues. It is a really simple song that is very pretty melodically. It is one that I am particularly proud of, and it has gone down live really, really well. I absolutely love what Oli has done to bring my ideas to life – really soaring treatment.
The vocals for the EP were recorded at Fiction Studio, London, with vocal engineering by Nathan Cooper. All the instrumentation was recorded in Brooklyn, New York.
The album is produced by Oli Deakin. Oli is a musician and producer from Penrith, Cumbria now based in Brooklyn, NY. He records under the name Lowpines and has produced records for CMAT, Swimming Bell, Elanor Moss and Benjamin Francis Leftwich, with whom he also performs live. Oli can be heard playing the following EP: acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, high strung guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano, prophet synthesizer, Wurlitzer, strings synth, percussion, glockenspiel.
The artwork for the release was created by Afiya Paice a West London-based artist and designer. She undertakes illustration work to commission and in 2022 she will embark on a degree in Fashion Design at the world-leading fashion school, Institute Français de la Mode in Paris.
A prolific and acclaimed composer in the world of film, theatre and TV, Roly Witherow won many plaudits for his debut folk album ‘Ballads and Yarns’ last year – including glowing reviews in the Times and Guardian as well as praise from the specialist folk press. Now Roly has followed up 2020’s ‘Ballads and Yarns’ with a new five-track EP ‘Down By the River’ containing both original compositions and his own unique interpretations of traditional folk songs.
As a film and TV composer, Roly’s credits have included Channel 4’s On The Edge, 2015 BIFA nominated film Gregor and Netflix feature film TRY.
As a folk musician and singer, Roly’s influences include Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, A.L. Lloyd, Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Pete Bellamy, John Martyn, Shirley Collins, Dick Gaughan, Nick Hart, Lisa O’Neill and Will Pound.
Roly Witherow: “This new EP is a very new direction for me. If my first album, ‘Ballads and Yarns’ had an experimental bent, stemming from my experience as a film composer, this new album has a ’back to basics’ approach, focussing on the song itself in its most minimal form. The vast majority of the songs are for just acoustic guitar and voice, and the recordings have a very live feel to them, realised in large part by the expert production of Joe Garcia of Joe’s Garage, in Bristol.”
The EP is a combination of traditional songs from the British Isles and further afield, alongside originals such as ‘The Bird and the Frog’ – originally released as a single back in January. The album in general touches on themes of rural vs urban life, family and growing up, love and love lost, nature and animals, industrialisation and mechanisation, as well as the death and lament found in so many folk songs from Britain.
The ‘Down By The River’ EP showcases Roly’s beautifully-evocative acoustic guitar-playing alongside his resonant, distinctive lead vocal. The backing vocals on ‘Johnny’s Gone to Hilo’ are by renowned folk singer Nick Hart. Roly, himself, can also be heard playing harmonium on that same track.
Roly adds:“Down by the River has quite a playful, innocent and childlike quality to it, influenced in part by the children’s songs of Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd, but also by my experience of recently becoming a father. One of the songs on the album ‘Ernie’s Song’ is dedicated to my son. Written in a remote part of Devon shortly after he was born it falls somewhere between hymnal folk and a traditional children’s song.”
Critical reaction to Roly’s debut album ‘Ballads and Yarns’:
“The result is like a modern Fairport Convention: folk, but not as purists know it. Witherow’s resonant voice sits beautifully against a spacious guitar arrangement”– The Times
“Soundtrack composer Roly Witherow mixes up art-rock, atmospherics and folk on his personal project, Ballads and Yarns, a rousing half-hour of music given extra warmth thanks to his old-fashioned vocal” – The Guardian
“a modern yet classic celebration of the art of folk music” – Folk Radio UK
Down by the River EP – track by track:
The Bird and the Frog: Previously released as a single The Bird and the Frog is a fable-esque love story, centred on the taming of a Bird by the Frog. The Frog seduces the bird, convincing her to give up her wild and free existence to live with him under a log. They live a peaceful yet humdrum life in the frog’s world and whilst the Frog is contented to have tamed the object of his love, the Bird is left with the sensation that something might be missing. I had in mind thoughts of suburban lifestyles – perhaps the home counties – and our adoption of a highly compartmentalised society, as well as being a tale of young love.
Johnny’s Gone to Hilo: The second single from the EP, Johnny’s Gone to Hilo is a sea shanty originating from the sailors of the nitrate trade of Western South America in the 19th century. Hilo likely refers to the Peruvian port of Ilo, and whilst the tone of the shanty varies a great deal in all its different versions and iterations – from drinking song to lament, I thought the melody of the song lent itself best to a sorrowful arrangement with guitar and harmonium. The backing vocals are provided by renowned local folk singer Nick Hart who, raised in a family of Morris dancers, is no stranger to telling a mournful story with his powerful voice. The recording of the harmonium with all its noisy stops, billows and pipes was a particular challenge for producer Joe Garcia, but with some clever mic placement was eventually achieved with great skill.
The Poacher’s Fate: I first heard Peter Bellamy’s beautiful rendition of this folk song that celebrates the poachers of old, a trope of English folklore, and instantly wanted to do my own version. The song is full of raw emotion and has a kind of Robin Hood ethos to it. I wanted to heighten the drama of the song by using a few different guitar techniques to follow the story, like the flamenco-style strumming that accompanies the death of the poacher. This is something I learned a long time ago when I played Classical and Flamenco nylon string guitar, but I also think it works nicely on steel strings!
Three Butchers: I came across this song in the penguin book of English folk songs, so I was first drawn to the story which is one of intrigue and deception, then I set about setting it to music, with the guitar playing a steady trot to suggest the motion of the horse and cart.
Ernie’s Song: This last song is an original named after my son. It kind of spans the territory between hymnal folk and children’s song! I’m not really sure how to categorise it to be honest, but it talks of growing up, longing for a more simple life, as well as rural vs urban existences. I wrote this during the pandemic shortly after my son was born. We were staying with my mother in a remote part of Devon which undoubtedly influenced the lyrics.
Sons of Southern Ulster have teamed up with The Boomtown Rats’ Pete Briquette on a new EP collaboration. The Turf Accountant Schemes EP, featuring four tracks remixed by Briquette, is out on 27th August. A single from the EP ‘Polaris’ was released on 2nd July.
Formed around the song-writing partnership of Justin Kelly and David Meagher, Sons of Southern Ulster released their well-received debut album Foundry Folk Songs back in 2016. Many of their songs reflect the experience of growing up in a small southern border town, Bailieborough in Ireland’s County Cavan. This was long before the internet and the country’s “Celtic Tiger” rapid growth period. They explore themes of regret and disappointment, interspersed with moments of light and insight.
“The first music I ever bought was the ‘Like Clockwork’ single by the Boomtown Rats when I was twelve or thirteen. I was obsessed with The Rats so when Pete Briquette reached out to ask if he could remix a few tracks from our ‘Sinners and Lost Souls’ album, we were absolutely shocked. Apparently, a mutual friend has passed the album on to him and he was suitably intrigued. Pete also grew up in County Cavan, so he’d get a lot of the references and the tone. Lyrically the songs are very “Cavan” in that they are on the surface often quite harsh but contain a lot of dark humour,” says Justin Kelly.
“I remember when the Boomtown Rats broke through. At that time it was highly unusual for an Irish band to make it in Britain. But for a Cavan man to be there!!! That was just bizarre. Cavan men were made to be farmers – not No.1 pop stars.”
The Turf Accountant Schemes EP features four tracks from the band’s second album Sinners and Lost Souls which was released in 2020. Each of the tracks is re-imagined and re-mixed by Briquette.
“In Sons of Southern Ulster, we took a very conscious decision to sing songs about Cavan as it was always a bit underserved, not just in music but in infrastructure and resources. In many ways, the Irish government ignored us and left us to our own devices – for better or worse. I think Pete picked up on that,”says David Meagher.
‘Polaris (Pete Briquette Remix)’ is out July 2. On August 27, the ‘Turf Accountant Schemes’ EP will be released across online platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify, as well as on vinyl. It can already be pre-ordered via Bandcamp.
Canterbury-based singer-songwriter Luke Jackson has scooped up numerous awards since first being nominated for the BBC’s Young Folk Awards back in 2013.
As a folk and roots-based artist he’s tapped into a school of song-writing that goes back many generations yet his songs always seem so effortlessly contemporary, topical and relevant.
This latest seven-track EP ‘Of The Time’ is no exception. Written during lockdown these songs take us on a powerful journey, not only of Luke Jackson’s own thoughts at various times over the months between March and November 2020, but feelings that many, many of us will immediately empathise with:
“The man in charge looks troubled on the TV. Doesn’t have a single thing to say” he sings on opening track ‘I Am Not Okay With This’.
The subjects are often bleak but the songs are never bleak, testimony to Jackson’s power as a songwriter and warmth as a performer. And he can be passionate and outspoken and uncompromising but avoids that temptation to get ranty – a trap that some singer-songwriters dealing with contemporary subject matter can sometimes fall into. Again, it’s a mark of his gift as a songwriter and the pure poetry of his lyrics.
The production nicely captures that mood, too.
“The songs lend themselves to a more sparse, acoustic production so the obvious person to do these recordings with was Elliott Norris at his ‘Good Neighbour Records’ studio,” he tells us.
I first saw Luke Jackson at Cecil Sharp House five years ago and was hugely impressed. His ‘This Family Tree’ album that I picked up that evening has frequently been on my stereo ever since – but it has been a treat to get fully up to date with Luke Jackson’s more recent output and familiarise myself with his wonderful 2019 album ‘Journals’ as well as this year’s brand new EP. As soon as I heard it I had no hesitation in making him this week’s featured artist.
‘It’s About Time’ is the latest single from US rock legends Jefferson Starship. Following the death of Paul Kantner in 2016 the band these days are: David Freiberg, Donny Baldwin, Cathy Richardson, Chris Smith and Jude Gold. The new single, however, is co-written by the band’s legendary ex-vocalist Grace Slick.
And while the single is definitely more of an upbeat slice of AOR in the spirit of ‘We Built This City’ rather than any Woodstock-era hippy freak-out, the lyrics are certainly not lacking in countercultural bite. “Can’t you feel the planet getting hotter? How can you sit back and watch your own slaughter?” sings Cathy Richardson. “Old white men have had their turn.”
A video has been released to promote the single:
The band have also announced the release of a new seven-track EP Mother of the Sun which will be released on 21st August. Not only does it include songs co-written by two original Jefferson Starship/Jefferson Airplane members – ‘It’s About Time’ co-written with Grace Slick and a further track co-written with Marty Balin, the EP also features the return of original Jefferson Starship member Pete Sears, who contributes bass on three tracks.
“Paul Kantner was our bandleader and the visionary who kept Jefferson Starship going through so many eras,” says Richardson. “He inspired so much about this record, from the messages in the lyrics to the title and album art to the collaborative process of creating music as a band with some of his original muses – Grace, Marty, and Pete. Mother of the Sun is dedicated to PK.”
Jefferson Starship today features singer/multi-instrumentalist David Freiberg (who, following a five-album stint with Quicksilver Messenger Service, was then part of the final line-up of Jefferson Airplane and the original Jefferson Starship), drummer Donny Baldwin (who joined Jefferson Starship in 1982 and also played and sang on many hits of the band’s Starship era), lead singer Cathy Richardson (whom Kantner recruited in 2008), Chris Smith (who has been in the band since the late 90s) on keyboards and Jude Gold (who joined in 2012) on lead guitar.
Having caught them several years ago I can happily confirm that live, the current line-up are well worth seeing, performing hits across all eras of the band including ‘White Rabbit’, ‘Somebody to Love’, ‘We Built This City’, and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’.
Mother of the Sun is released via Golden Robot Records on 21st August 2020.
This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here
The Tweed Project was originally formed in 2015, aiming to both celebrate and fuse English and Scottish traditional music. After a few years on the back-burner The Tweed Project is now back, performing a short tour last autumn and releasing this EP. With a new line-up, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar are joined by vocalist Josie Duncan, guitarist Pablo Lafuente, piper and whistle player Ali Levack and percussionist Evan Carson.
Josie Duncan sings beautifully, whether it’s in English on songs like Dick Gaughan’s ‘Both Sides the Tweed’ whose message of friendship flourishing on both sides of the famous river straddling the English and Scottish borders is something of a musical manifesto for the band; or in Gaelic as on the wonderfully frenetic ‘B’fhearr leam fhin’. There is some splendid playing on the release, too, as one would expect from an EP packed full of past Young Folk Award winners. The combination of pipes, fiddle, guitar and percussion makes for some wonderfully atmospheric moods created throughout the EP’s six tracks.
For admirers of Greg Russell’s superb singing voice he makes just one lead vocal contribution, singing on the final track ‘Turn That Page Again’. A song about hope and optimism for the future, it concludes the EP in style.
With a refreshed and revitalised line-up and a release just brimming with virtuoso musicality, love and passion it is wonderful to experience the creativity of the Tweed Project flowing once more.
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