Desperately Seeking the Mad Cat Lady – the Susan Calman interview

Susan-Calman3Barely half-way into a mammoth 100-date tour – from a month of Edinburgh Fringe summer dates right through until May – you’d think Susan Calman would be getting a little jaded by now.

But this lawyer-turned-comic remains her characteristic bubbly self as her tour moves closer to a short Christmas break.

You’ll know Susan, this wee Scot a regular on radio and TV panel and stand-up shows.

And now, for the first time at venues around the UK, we get to see her in person, sharing those formative life experiences.

Her Lady Like show involves a 90-minute set that Susan promises will reassure us about our own lives, delivered by a 40-year-old supposedly known as ‘The Mad Cat Lady’ to her neighbours.

Such anecdotal and observational honesty has become her trademark, with Susan’s audiences on board for a journey of self-awareness, self-discovery and self-indulgence, built around a heart-warmingly optimistic message apparently.

Susan, whose father is former England, Scotland and Wales chief medical officer Sir Kenneth Calman, studied law at Glasgow University, her resultant work in the field including a stint with death row inmates in North Carolina.

But she turned her back on law for comedy, and has since appeared on QI, Would I Lie To You?, Rab C. Nesbitt, among other shows.

Accolades en route have included the Best New Scottish Comedian at the Scottish Variety Awards in 2009 and Best MC at the Chortle Awards in 2012.

10527424_10154269853895391_3273491765644178071_nAnd this summer, Susan presented the BBC’s Don’t Drop the Baton for the Commonwealth Games, and Radio 4’s Susan Calman Is Convicted.

There’s also a brand new Radio 2 panel show Listomania and a newly-commissioned Radio 4 sitcom in the pipeline, both set for broadcast in 2015.

But right now the focus is her live schedule, a current batch of 35 dates from the end of September to mid-December followed by another 40 or so in the new year.

So is it a case of Woman with a Suitcase at the moment?

“Absolutely, I only finish in May, and did the Fringe as well, which was 29 dates, so it’ll be over a hundred by the time we finish.

“I’ve never toured before, so for the first one we’re really going for it! It’s good fun doing the show in lots of places though. I’m enjoying it.”

You see yourself as a story-teller rather than a stand-up, but I guess that doesn’t really matter as long as you can engage an audience.

“Well, Billy Connolly’s a story-teller. So I’m a stand-up, but differentiate myself from someone like Jimmy Carr, who tells hundreds of jokes. I’m more an observational comic.”

I read that you always take your own optional extras on the road with you.

“I stay a lot in Premier Inns, and they’re very nice but they’re all the same. It’s good to have something from home. It makes things slightly more bearable.

“I have my own posh shower gel and shampoo, and a nice cup of coffee.”

Is this why bands and comics often shout out the name of the town they’re in – to remind themselves where they are?

Susan-Calman-001“Sometimes it’s difficult to remember, particularly if you just get on a train and go to the next place.

“I genuinely don’t know how many places I’ve stayed. Sometimes you wake up and wonder where you are. But sometimes I’m glad I’m staying at a Premier Inn.”

In the old days it was more likely to have been a dodgy boarding house with a candlewick bedspread.

“I’ve stayed in some awful places, and on a couple of dates I’ve tried bed and breakfasts, which is quite weird.

“It’s like staying in someone’s house. I’m a teenager in my bedroom again. I didn’t really enjoy that much.”

Are you still doing radio and TV panel shows and other media work between dates?

“It’s very difficult because most record on a Thursday night, so I’ve had to take a bit of a break.

“I’m still doing Radio 4 shows, like The News Quiz, but I’m concentrating on this tour. And it’s been absolutely fantastic.

“Tickets have been selling incredibly well, and the audiences have been really brilliant. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’ve been having a blast!”

Do you still get nervous before a show, or when you’re out there?

“I’m nervous before any show, and think nerves are important because it means you’re excited about the show.

“You have to keep a handle on it, because if you’re very nervous you’ll never eat anything. If you don’t eat but travel and do shows, you’ll fall over.

Susan Calman high res pic“It’s exciting, and I’ve done some beautiful venues and fantastic places. Very rarely do I get to see any of the places, sadly. But hopefully if I’m touring again in a couple of years, I’ll make sure I spend a bit more time there.”

Does she tend to listen to other artists’ thoughts on the venues she’s about to play?

“If you start doing that, you’ll never go anywhere! Someone has always had a bad gig somewhere. It’s best I go and see what it’s like. I don’t want to hear nightmare stories.”

Did the Lady Like show have its roots in your Edinburgh Fringe set?

“My Fringe show is the bulk of the second half, and I wrote the second half around that. And when this tour’s over, I’ll start writing a show for 2016.”

Are you honing the act as you go?

“No, the show’s bang on now. I’ve done it for so long. If it wasn’t good by now, I’d be in trouble! It’s what I wanted it to be, and audiences seem to be enjoying it.”

You were recently quoted as saying, “All of us have mental health issues, it’s just that for some of us, our issues make us go more mental that others.” Does that sum your approach up?

“This show is about being positive in life. I sometimes don’t have a lot of confidence in myself, with people sometimes surprised at that as I stand on a stage and all that.

“If you let people in on that, saying, ‘Actually, I’ve had the same lapses in confidence you have’, they can associate with that.

1535721_10153923957750391_5455877748835522315_n“Life is a very strange, pressured thing these days, and very occasionally it’s possible you just fall down a bit and learn to pick yourself up with the help of others.

“That’s what I did. When you’re performing, you’re a character, and have to be to get up on stage and perform.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, so I’m confident in what I’m doing. But there’s always that frisson of nerves, thinking, ‘What am I doing? I should have stayed being a lawyer. This is a ridiculous job!’ But it’s also great fun.”

According to her latest press release, Susan’s ‘petite, Glaswegian, likes cats and – if she is to be believed – at one time collected thimbles’.

In fact, I’ve seen a few varying descriptions. So which sits best with her – feisty Scot? Mad cat lady? Petite Glaswegian? Or diminutive lesbian?

“Erm … mad cat lady. That’s the one.”

Are you a bit too honest in your live show sometimes?

“I only share how much I want to share. The people who know what I’m really like are my family and friends. I share a little of myself – again, like Billy Connolly does.

“Then you go home, and those closest to you know exactly who you are. I’ve never shared anything I’m not happy with.

“And I find it easier to write about something rather than about nothing.”

Big Influence: Billy Connolly

Big Influence: Billy Connolly

What does Sir Kenneth make of his daughter’s public profile?

“I think he’s very proud, and listens to my shows on Radio 4. It was obviously a bit of a change from what I was going to do, but my parents are very supportive, and I’m glad to have that support.”

You’ve just turned 40. Was that a game-changer?

“It was odd, but I had a big party and it’s done and gone, so I’ll just carry on as if nothing happened. I’m 39 as far as I’m concerned.”

What’s all this about you collecting thimbles?

“I genuinely did collect thimbles as a child, but stopped. There wasn’t enough space.”

Did anything replace that in your life?

“I have a few hobbies I’m trying to develop. Nothing quite as twee as collecting thimbles though.”

There have been a lot of awards over the years. Which do you covet most?

“I think the Writers’ Guild award, for my radio show. Writing is something I love doing, and I really treasure being acknowledged for that, as it was writers who voted.”

Sexy Beasts: The Susan Calman-narrated BBC 3 Show that takes blind dating to a new level

Sexy Beasts: The Susan Calman-narrated BBC 3 Show that takes blind dating to a new level

The TV voice-over and presenting work is coming in too, with BBC3’s Sexy Beasts and CBBC’s Disaster Chefs and Extreme School.

There’s also an STV quiz show, Radio 2’s Listomania and Radio 4’s Susan Calman is Convicted. Never a dull moment, really.

“No, and I’m looking forward to going home in June for some time off. But you can never complain about being busy. It’s the best thing for me.”

Where is home when you get the chance?

“I still live in Glasgow and I’m loving it, although it’s a bit difficult commuting these days. My partner and my family are still there, so that’s where I go home to.”

Is there a hangover from the Commonwealth Games up there at present?

“The Games was absolutely terrific, the best times I can remember in my home city. It was just extraordinary, and the weather was fantastic for the first part.

“We watched some of the events, and I’m just so proud of my home city. The hangover from that is perhaps from people perceiving the city as a slightly better place than they did before.”

It has a reputation to live up to now.

“Well, d’you know – it will! It’s remarkable place, and that’s why I stay there.”

Do you think you might have persevered with the law as the day job?

“I enjoyed being a lawyer, but I’m glad I’m not one anymore. It’s lovely to have the experience, but I think I made the right choice.”

Did your time on death row in the States help you focus on what you wanted to do with your life?

“Yes, but it was more of a personal development experience. I was only around 20, going around these high-security prisons – so far removed from my safe life in Glasgow and at university. And it’s something that’s stayed with me for 20 years.”

You’re coming up for a decade as a stand-up now. Where was your first gig?

the-stand-glasgow-(by-julia-forrest)“It was at The Stand comedy club in Glasgow, a Tuesday night open mic event, Red Raw. I did five minutes, and it was terrifying and wonderful at the same time.

“The Stand was at the centre of everything I’ve done. That’s where I learned my trade, and they’re incredibly supportive of new comics.”

Do you remember your set that night?

“I have it written down somewhere. I keep all my flyers, brochures and everything else. I suspect it’s awful, but it’s there somewhere.”

Have you made a lot of good friends on the circuit?

“A huge amount of people I started with are now incredibly good friends, like Sarah Millican, Holly Walsh and Zoe Lyons. That makes the job even nicer.”

Away from it all, Susan – who came out at the age of 19 – has been in a civil partnership since 2012. Was that public commitment to her relationship important to her?

“I felt it was, personally. I wanted to stand in front of friends and family and make a public commitment to my better half.

“We’ve been together 13 years and it was the best day of my life … at least until we hopefully get married at some point!”

Susan Calman high res pic 4Finally, we mentioned the writing before. Is that where your future lies?

“Well, I’ve just had my first sitcom commissioned by Radio 4. That’s what I’m writing just now, so I very much hope so.

“It’s a six-part series based on myself and my sister. I’m writing it now, we record it in May, ready for around June next year.

“I’ll never stop doing live gigs, because those are so enjoyable, but I really love sitting down and writing as well. So hopefully that will develop.”

For tour dates and ticket details for Susan Calman’s on-going tour, head here.

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Paul Carrack/Elliott Morris – Preston Guild Hall

Band substance: Paul Carrack and co in full live flow (Photo: Paul Carrack)

Band substance: Paul Carrack and co in full live flow (Photo: Paul Carrack)

From Satisfy my Soul through to a show-stopping How Long, those at the Guild Hall on Wednesday night were left in no doubt as to why they call Paul Carrack ‘the man with the golden voice’.

Whether tackling classic ‘60s ballads or more recent twists on the theme, Paul proves soulful to the core, making each song his own.

There’s no snobbery when I tell you my better half and I brought down the average age, and it took a while to get the joint jumping.

But irrespective of the demographic, Paul’s music is timeless and his vocal delivery ensures intimacy, something support Elliott Morris also managed.

This Lincolnshire lad with Wiltshire, Scots and Welsh roots told us he was a pub gig regular until discovered by Paul, and proved a master of percussive guitar.

With a little John Martyn influence delivered in Seth Lakeman style, Elliott redefined folk in the same way PC does with his soul roots.

Tap Dance: Elliott Morris knows his way around the guitar

Tap Dance: Elliott Morris knows his way around the guitar

And who could resist his finale – a tale of Michael Jackson’s Thriller’s link to Cleethorpes (true -look it up) leading to an expressive, alternative run through Billie Jean.

Paul saw Elliott’s worth when he invited him on tour, and you can expect to hear more from this young artist.

After a brief break, you’ll have been forgiven for not realising Paul’s band were on for a while, such was their nonchalant arrival. But they soon found their groove.

Those who haven’t seen PC live lately may be surprised to know he features tandem drumming, his son Jack sat alongside Dean Dukes, a combination which proves effective.

Steve Beighton’s sax and Andy Staves’ guitar add further dimensions, something of a continuation of Paul’s great voice, while Jeremy Meek’s bass provides a solid platform, and Paul Copley’s backing vocals and keyboards help his namesake alternate between key and fret work (and sometimes both at once).

All in all, we’re talking a tight unit, as you might expect around this stalwart performer, and the band were certainly well into their stride for Jackie De Shannon’s When You Walk in the Room, paving the way for the journey of well-balanced nostalgia and sweet soul music that followed.

A laid-back Good Feelin’ About It suggested Elvis Costello meets Booker T & The MGs, and gave rise to Bobby Bland’s Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City, a taste of LA given a North Country feel.

One in a Million, the first of the tracks from latest LP, Rise or Shine, married The Impressions’ People Get Ready with Squeeze’s Black Coffee in Bed. And that’s no bad thing.

The heartfelt That’s All That Matters to Me - a dad’s love letter to his daughter – led to Another Cup of Coffee, the first of three fine Mike + The Mechanics cuts on the night.

A pensive Eyes of Blue was touchingly delivered, while Time Waits For No One further showcased Paul’s new album.

Shine On: Paul Carrack

Shine On: Paul Carrack

And that was followed by his sublime 1981 Squeeze collaboration Tempted, the second song of the night co-written with Chris Difford, following Satisfy my Soul.

Brenda Lee’s Losing You added a warm midwinter glow to proceedings, with You Don’t Know Me another timeless ballad in good hands, reminiscent of Ray Charles.

I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love is a more laid-back take on How Long, and gave rise to a funkier Make Your Mind Up, with inspirational hints of Sly and the Family Stone and The Staples Singers.

The high point for me was Paul’s revelatory re-jig of Bruce Springsteen 1992 cut If I Should Fall Behind. And he was on top form now.

A highly-emotive I Think it’s Gonna Rain set the tone perfectly for BA Robertson / Mike Rutherford penned The Living Years.

Heading to a gig on the second anniversary of your Dad’s passing was always going to be tricky, and the odds were always against me in that last verse. Not a dry eye in the house.

Hat Trick: Paul Carrack (Photo: Bearly Famous)

Hat Trick: Paul Carrack (Photo: Bearly Famous)

There was still time for the Needles and Pins-like feelgood track When My Little Girl’s Smiling before the crowd finally found its feet for Paul’s finest pop hit, Over my Shoulder.

And hats off to anyone who can whistle so competently live, although Paul’s homburg remained resolutely on all night.

Recent single Stepping Stone followed, Paul’s seven-piece returning for the Motown-esque Time to Move On then a fitting final singalong on his 40-year-old signature tune, which was of course Ace.

Perhaps I’d prefer to watch PC and his band tearing it up down their local, with a pint in my hand and the dance-floor buzzing.

But there was no doubting the band’s commitment on the night, nor Paul’s peerless delivery.

A special feature/interview with Paul Carrack appeared on this site on October 31, with a link here.

For full tour details, and all the latest from the Carrack camp, head to his official website here

And for more about Elliott Morris and his forthcoming appearances, try here.

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The Eve of the Final Tour – the Jeff Wayne interview

1461154_10151772466369290_804135728_nMore than 35 years after Jeff Wayne’s first musical adaptation of HG Wells’ classic 1897 science fiction tale, it appears that there’s still plenty of life in The War of the Worlds.

But while Jeff is about to embark on conducting the show’s sixth UK arena tour, deemed to be his most ambitious yet, it’s also the final one.

This time we get Liam Neeson in 3D holography, a cast including Jason Donovan, Westlife’s Brian McFadden,  X Factor winner Shayne Ward, Les Miserables’ Carrie Hope Fletcher, a 36-piece string section and nine-piece band.

Remarkable special effects are promised too, including a three-tonne 35ft tall flame-firing Martian fighting machine, a 100ft wide animation wall and two hours of cutting-edge CGI.

Even HG Wells is involved, brought to life by Callum O’Neill, aged 33, 53 and 79, spanning the era he wrote the story and two subsequent World Wars.

Jeff’s original 1978 double album version of the story saw huge global success, selling more than 15 million copies and spending more than 330 weeks in the UK album charts.

It also spawned two hit singles, topped the charts in 11 countries, and won various awards.

And this 17-date final tour coincides with a new live highlights CD, featuring Liam Neeson, Gary Barlow, Joss Stone and Ricky Wilson among others.

So how old was New York-born Jeff, now aged 71, when he first read The War of the Worlds? I asked down the phone line to his home studio in Hertfordshire.

“Actually I was around 27, in a period when I was touring with David Essex and arranging for him as his musical director in the studio.”

Common Ground: The Martians' arrival in Horsell, depicted in picture postcard form (Photo montage: Lucy Reynolds Art c/o http://robotmafia.com/))

Common Ground: The Martians’ arrival in Horsell, depicted in picture postcard form (Photo montage: Lucy Reynolds Art)

Did it spark your imagination right away?

“Absolutely. As a composer and producer, I was reading a lot with my Dad, all genres, and The War of the Worlds was the only book that in one read I was hooked by.”

At this point, I mention my own link with the book, telling Jeff how my great-grandad was three years younger than HG, and moved within two streets of his home in Maybury, Woking, while the author was writing The War of the Worlds.

Mind you, I add, I’m not sure if – in his work as a jobbing gardener – Alfred Ernest Wyatt felt the same need to obliterate large parts of his adopted town as Herbert George Wells.

“Well, there was the red weed the Martians brought in plant-like form as seeds to grow, although it was a deadly weed. It looked beautiful, but its purpose in life was to smother.”

Jeff’s take on the story first saw the light of day in 1978, his English step-mum, Doreen, adapting HG’s tale in a musical version featuring, among others, the voice of his Dad, US actor Jerry Wayne.

“Every one of those voices in that NASA sequence is my Dad’s, and he remains to this day on every one of the tours we’ve done.

“Doreen came to London to open a script-printing and typing service, and my Dad was producing plays at that point and would go in as a customer. They started going out and that sort of transformed their lives.

“Doreen was an excellent writer and journalist, and we asked her to adapt the novel once we’d acquired the rights.”

Creative Science: HG Wells was living in Woking when he wrote his science fiction novel The War of the Worlds

Creative Science: HG Wells was living in Woking when he wrote his science fiction novel The War of the Worlds

Was the making of your first version a long time in coming?

“From that first read to the time it came out was in and around three years. But there were about three months after we read the book tracing who inherited the rights from HG Wells, who passed away in 1946.

“There was no internet or emails in those days, so it was a ‘hunt in packs’ search, and  wound up with a husband and wife literary agency.

“They represented Frank Wells, HG’s son, who he left everything to. So while we searched high and wide, it ended in London, and that’s how we started the ball rolling.”

Jeff was already working with David Essex, having produced his breakthrough LP Rock On in 1973 and going on to produce his first four best-selling albums. And the pair remain in touch to this day.

“Very much so. Socially and occasionally professionally. We had dinner together a few weeks ago and I’m going to see him in about 10 days. He’s having a documentary made about his life, and I’m a guest.”

So how did this boy from Queens, New York, end up in Hertfordshire?

“Good question! I first moved here as a little boy with my parents. My father at that point was a singer and actor.

0033“He had quite a successful career, and when a musical called Guys and Dolls transferred to London he was the original romantic lead, Sky Masterson.

“We stayed for around four years. Dad carried on over here after Guys and Dolls, before an opportunity to go back to New York.

“We went back for another three or four years before TV and film work and a record contract took us to Los Angeles.

“My high school and college days were spent there, my father returning to solely produce plays, some going to the West End, including a musical based on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

“So while my career as a musician started a couple of years before, truth is that it was pure nepotism that this 18 or 19-year-old starting off in life should be handed the commission of composing the score for a West End musical.

“I have no hesitancy in stating my Dad believed in me, but I didn’t warrant it by my CV.”

Jeff had been making his name in LA as a musician at the time, while studying and working as a tennis coach, including a spell in The Sandpipers.

“I put myself through college in two ways, playing in bands and doing musical arrangements for TV composers, and through coaching tennis, having played to national standard. And one of my pupils was a screenwriter involved with The Sandpiper, which ironically included Richard Burton. Not that I would have been able to forecast all those years later we would work together!

“The movie wanted a song of that same name as a title track and were prepared to support a group of the same name to promote it.

Major Artist: Jeff's father, Jerry Wayne

Major Artist: Jeff’s father, Jerry Wayne

“I was starting out as a musician and arranger, and I played keyboards. And in The Sandpipers I also played percussion, zithers and one-off instruments too.

“A song was written, recorded and submitted, and we were doing gigs when the film was completed and they brought in a film composer, who submitted Shadow of Your Smile.

“That went on to be used in the film, won the Academy award, and The Sandpipers as I knew it were no more.

“But one of the originals then reformed the band, got a contract and one of their first records was Guantanamera.

“So yes, I can claim to have been in The Sandpipers, but unfortunately pre-fame!”

Did he see a lot of his Dad’s acting as a child?

“I have very clear memories of some things he did, and inherited pretty much all the clippings, photographs and films when he passed away.

“In reviewing them, I’d forgotten what a major artist he was in the United States. He was brilliant in Guys and Dolls, was in 1954’s Royal Variety Performance, and did a lot of good work.

“He and I would fight over our piano when I grew up in Forest Hills. I started at age five taking lessons, and loved it.

“He had to learn his songs and routines for his live act … and I have that piano here in my studio to this day.”

Jeff studied journalism to degree level. Did he think that’s where his future laid?

“Yes, my goal at that point was going into what today would be called investigative journalism, and I got a degree at what was then Valley Junior College over two years.

“I coached tennis and played gigs in the evening, writing songs as a vocation. But when I completed the course I realised I got it the wrong way round. My real passion was music.

“So I switched colleges, but never got a degree because when I was in my second or third year my Dad was doing Two Cities.

“But I did go to Trinity College of Music in London and took advance classes in conducting, orchestration, and so on.”

Jeff’s journalistic high point was a runners-up prize in a national college awards event for coverage of a campus visit by civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King.

Pod Above: Jerry Wayne's NASA role gets a modern makeover (Photo: Roy Smiljanic)

Pod Above: Jerry Wayne’s NASA role gets a modern makeover (Photo: Roy Smiljanic)

But by 1966 he was back in London, experiencing first-hand the height of the Swinging ’60s and arriving in a nation on a high after a World Cup win.

Jeff scored Two Cities - for which Edward Woodward in the lead role won a best male performance gong in the Evening Standard Awards, now known as the Olivier Awards – and that led to one of the show’s investors, film director Frank Streich, hiring him for an advertisement.

“By good fortune, there was very little voice-over in it, and at an advertising awards ceremony I won the best music award.

“That led to lots of other commercials, TV and film scores, and I started producing some artists.

“It just happened that around then I started going out with a dancer in Two Cities who went on to Godspell as an understudy. And hanging around the theatre, I became friendly with David Essex, who was playing Jesus Christ.

“I asked David if he fancied doing some sessions, and he ended up doing lots of media work for me.

“He had around three or four singles out at that point, which weren’t quite breaking through, although very well done, and suggested maybe we could work together.

“I asked what sort of songs he wrote and David said, ‘I’ve got one here’. I presumed he was going to the piano we’d used for the session. But he walked straight past, picked up a trash bin, turned it over, emptied whatever was in it and started banging away like a bongo or a conga, singing Rock On.

Big Break: David Essex's Jeff Wayne-produced breakthrough hit

Big Break: David Essex’s Jeff Wayne-produced breakthrough hit

“And maybe because there was no instrument you could play a chord on, it had this hollow quality about it. My engineer put on a ‘50s repeat echo, and that was the beginning.

“The end result was the first record that we ever did together, I put up my own money to sign David, doing a deal with what became his ex-label. We made a couple of songs then went off with a new record company.”

Those first fruits of that new partnership remain pretty timeless, maybe because of that classic rock’n’roll feel to the recording.

“Yeah, and I have to always think back to the belief David had in the production of that song. The concept was to keep those hollows and echoes.

“There’s no instrument on that record playing chords – no guitars, no piano.

“The backing track was played by Herbie Flowers on bass, then Barry Morgan and Barry D’Souza on drums and percussion. I remember them sitting there with David, saying ‘when’s the rest of the band coming?’

“I said, ‘Guys, you are the band!’, and tried to explain what I had in my head. It was all written around a guitar riff that Herbie expanded on, and he tracked his guitar line up an octave to give this very hollow wobble to fill the space.”

Jeff ended up producing his discovery’s first four studio albums, before David assumed those duties himself while his mentor was busy with The War of the Worlds.

And again it came down to Jeff using his own money to help fund the project. That was a big gamble. How close was he to pulling out?

“Well, again, it was in stages. I had a record deal with CBS to produce and compose a single album of pretty much thematic pieces, without major guest artists and artwork.

“I realised very early on that this wasn’t as simple as that. It grew quite quickly into a double album with guest artists and commissioned artwork.

“CBS’s investment was around £70,000, and the end product cost around £240,000. And there was no doubt there was a moment in time fairly early when the money had been used.

Fighting Machine: Artwork from the 1978 musical version of the book

Fighting Machine: Artwork from the 1978 musical version of the book

“I remember sitting down with my young wife, my Dad and Doreen, saying, ‘Guys, we’re now out of their money and either into my life savings and probably a bit more, or we raise the white flag of surrender to the Martians and pack it all up.

“They were very much for me continuing, and felt as a composer and producer I may never get another chance to essentially start with a blank page and let whatever comes out of me come out.

“We weren’t going to starve. It wasn’t as dramatic as that. I was a working musician and composer in all these other areas. But the cost was substantial.

“And the irony was that I didn’t even have a contract that guaranteed a release. So beyond the money, there was the knowing that if I finished it there was no insurance it would come out.

“Once it was complete I had to hand it in, and CBS had a 30-day period to make a judgment call on it. And after 30 days I got a call saying they needed another 30 days.

“So it was quite a period of trepidation to say the least. But after that second period they were well on board and the rest was … well …”

And they were right to be on board about it.

“Well, thank you, but it was nerve-racking, having to wait around two months to see if they even liked it.”

How was it working with Richard Burton? A consummate professional, or a hard man to please? I believe he was up for the task from the start.

“I was very fortunate to attract him, and once he was on board, we had a contract that allowed us to call him for five days in a row – full studio days of 10 to 12 hours.

Vocal Performance: Richard Burton with Jeff Wayne and David Essex, at work on The War of the Worlds in 1978

Vocal Performance: Richard Burton with Jeff Wayne and David Essex, at work on The War of the Worlds in 1978

“We had to go to California, because he was making a film there. But to give you an idea, there was what wound up on the album and about as much again that didn’t, but he completed it all in one day.

“He then came back around three months later to London, where I needed a little repair work for certain sections, but it was still only around another three hours’ work.

“He was fully prepared, took whatever direction was necessary, and was very much into it. He enjoyed the whole experience. And we have an out-take of him somewhere saying, ‘Oh, those are delicious words!”

Jeff also managed to woo Justin Hayward, lead singer of The Moody Blues. Was he a fan at the time?

“I was, and the reason I approached Justin was because I loved his voice generally. Nights in White Satin was of course a classic recording.

“We had a mutual contact that led me to him, so I sent him a letter and a cassette recording of the demo, then waited.

Autumnal Touch: Justin Hayward

Autumnal Touch: Justin Hayward

“He came back pretty quickly, was up for it, and recognised Forever Autumn as a song for him, ending up doing a second piece, which also became a hit, The Eve of the War. And right up to two times ago he was with us on every tour.”

From Julie Covington to Phil Lynott there was an accomplished support cast too, and Jeff continues to attract the big stars for his productions to this day.

“Julie was very much like David, in Godspell and doing a lot of media sessions for me. But neither was a pushover. I had to submit demos and tell them about the project. It was easy to get to them though.

“I didn’t know Phil, but a mutual contact got him into the studio to hear the demo. I then went to a couple of Thin Lizzy concerts to check out how he was on stage, once from the audience, once from the side.

“We got on great, he was a real passionate bloke and true rock’n’roller on the surface but actually a very soulful guy who on our last session handed me a signed book of his own poetry, which to this day still has pride of place at my home.

“He was in a huge rock band and I think the lifestyle and whole flavour of that appealed to him, but underneath all that he was very easy to work with.

Phil Lynott: Soulful Side

Phil Lynott: Soulful Side

“His mum, Philomena, has come to see our tours when we’ve played Ireland, so I’ve got to know her too. And she handed me a letter he wrote to her after working on the project.”

If The War of the Worlds defined Jeff’s sound, you can also hear it on his TV work, not least a very-1980s twist on ITV’s The Big Match and the first TV-am themes.

Meanwhile, The Human League cut their own version of his Gordon’s Gin ad, and his Turkish Delight advert from that era is highly recognisable.

“I’ve good memories of many of those experiences. Whether it was TV, film or ads, it’s always been about making music and working with creative people.

“If it’s a good collaboration it usually sounds good as well. Some you mention are favourites of mine, some are of their time, but others survive to this day, and the emails I get and forum posts about them are extraordinary.

“Today you don’t quite get that longevity. The TV-am theme lasted around 10 or 12 years first time and involved every piece of music on those programmes.”

Watching your Turkish Delight ad recently, it’s so clearly Jeff Wayne! I wondered how could I have not noticed that before.

“Well there you go! At the time you don’t even know if you have a signature, but I guess that whatever the size of the piece, you can put a stamp on something.”

In the 1990s, Jeff adapted Spartacus for the stage, with another acclaimed cast, not least Sir Anthony Hopkins, and former Marillion front-man Fish, another recent writeyattuk interviewee.

That was a move back into that world, wasn’t it?

“Yes it was. It was a long time in coming for various reasons, but again I look back on working with ‘Sir Tone’, who wasn’t a sir then, but getting pretty close, and was actually from the same village as Richard Burton.

“Both had magnificent voices. The textures on a microphone are actually quite different, but they’re both brilliant actors and I’m very fortunate to have worked with them.

“The same goes today with Liam Neeson, who speaks fairly quietly, but the bass end in his voice fills up the whole space.”

Touch Down: From the TWOTW arena tour (Photo: Roy Smiljanic)

Touch Down: From the TWOTW arena tour (Photo: Roy Smiljanic)

While a planned CGI animation of The War of the Worlds never quite happened, that work was also incorporated into the stage show.

“It never got shelved, it just moved from film to the stage. When the tours came up I’d already been working with an animation team, particularly improving the Martian fighting machinery and how those tripodian devices and something that big could actually walk and move.

“When the tours came along, I was able to take what we had developed. Those became among the main ingredients of our arena tours, and have progressed ever since.

“And this new tour is so advanced, it’s almost a feature film in itself. I do hope it will have a proper release and be finished off in line with its potential.”

Indeed. It’s fair to say that the technology has moved on a great deal in the past 35 years.

“The first tour was in 2006, and it was only around nine months prior to that that we got to grips with it. I know from having tried before, something of the scale and complexity we do now in the arenas was either impossible then or would have been too expensive.

“It wasn’t the right time then, but jump forward to 2006, and the technology had changed to such an extent that we could get it on.

jeff-wayne-1352377355-article-0“If you were to compare every production since we started – and this is the biggest super-sizing we’ve done – the technology and effects just keep changing. For me, it’s almost been a living work.”

So why the decision for this to be the final tour?

“Well, we’re selling out, and the promoters say in the 60 years they’ve been going they’ve never known a show of our size to come back so often.

“We toured in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012 and now 2014 in the UK, plus Europe and as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, and on this tour added six shows.

“So it’s not about a lack of success! It’s more about me announcing in the early to mid-part of next year the new direction for my musical version.

“Nothing‘s for sure yet, but it seems at the moment the arena tours – for certain for the foreseeable future – will end after this tour and we’ll be into the next chapter … wherever that may take us.”

Aside from that, Jeff’s also working on a production of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, another classic book from that same late Victorian era.

“It’s interesting that only in the last couple of years when I returned to planning out The Call of the Wild, I discovered both – albeit one being British and the other American – were published within nine months, and the authors knew each other quite well.”

While he appears to have no intention to step back from his own career, it seems that the next generation of the Wayne dynasty – Jeff and his wife Geraldine’s four children – are now coming to the fore. But there’s always been a fine line between career and family.

Studio Tan: Jeff Wayne takes a break at home in Hertfordshire (Photo: Wade Laube/ Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age)

Studio Tan: Jeff Wayne takes a break at home in Hertfordshire (Photo: Wade Laube/ Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age)

“When I went into CBS to do my deals for David Essex and The War of the Worlds, Geraldine was an assistant to the business affairs director there.

“She then left and got an executive position in licensing, a great advance in her career, and later my own production company was looking for someone, Geraldine came in and got the job.

“Six months later we started going out. And we’ll be coming up to 38 years of marriage next January.”

And it appears that the next Wayne generation are following in those footsteps, all inheriting that creative spark – with one daughter an actor, another a published writer, and sons a DJ/musician and a tennis player.

“Every Friday night when they were growing up we had a dinner together – as we still do – and were interested to see what their interests were.

“Geraldine always emphasised a career-based life or work in the community and for good causes. But then they’d all look at me and I’d just sort of shrug my shoulders.

bs-0“Now our eldest daughter is an actress and going into production, while our next daughter down is a very successful journalist in her own right, has just had her debut novel released and is at work on the second.

“Then our eldest son is a very successful DJ on the international scene and a musician in his own right, and does all the play-out music for our tours, and our youngest son was on the full-time tennis circuit then went to university, graduated in philosophy and has just started a law degree in London.

“And I’m proud of every one of them.”

So does he see himself as more British than American with the passing years?

“I’ve lived in England for more than two-thirds of my life, so I have to call myself far more Brit than Yank.”

Tickets for dates on Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds final arena tour are priced from £38.50, with more details here.

This is a revised and expanded version of a Malcolm Wyatt feature for the Lancashire Evening Post, first published on Thursday, November 13. For the original online version, head here.

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Going Overground – In conversation with Damian O’Neill

Guitar Hero: Damian O'Neill at the Dirty Water (Photo: Kate Greaves)

Guitar Hero: Damian O’Neill at the Dirty Water (Photo: Kate Greaves)

This week saw the release of a new solo single from one of my musical heroes, a certain Damian O’Neill.

I’m tempted to not even bother with an introduction, but this Derry-raised, London-based guitarist made his name alongside brother John O’Neill, Mickey Bradley, Billy Doherty and Feargal Sharkey in The Undertones, a band that meant so much to me in my early teens and beyond.

If that wasn’t enough, Dee went on to That Petrol Emotion, the bedrock’n’roll of my gigging years around the capital in the second half of the 1980s.

Since the turn of the new century, he’s been back with The Undertones, these days with Paul McLoone in Feargal’s parka spot, so to speak.

And this past couple of years, another of Dee’s bands, The Everlasting Yeah – also involving ex-TPE members Raymond Gorman, Ciaran McLaughlin and Brendan Kelly – have come to light, and have newly released a mightily-impressive debut LP.

But in the midst of all that, Dee’s been recording his own songs, with Trapped in a Cage c/w Love Makes The World Go Round out on 7″ vinyl only via Overground Records, in a limited 500-copy run.

And – as with The Everlasting Yeah’s Anima Rising, which I’ve reviewed here last week – I can vouch for the fact that we have another winner.

Damian’s vocal on Trapped in a Cage underlines and showcases his ability in a rarely-heard department.

Then there are those guitars and that late-70s feel ‘tick-tock’ backing vox. It’s partly-abrasive, very raw, and definitely in keeping with the theme.

Love Makes The World Go Round is wonderfully catchy yet uncompromising in that, and reminds me of one of those b-sides you find by chance then can’t stop spinning.

There are hints of Lou Reed, early Go-Betweens, a large dose of Buzzcocks – I’d love to hear Pete Shelley tackle this – and even that new wave fire Graham Coxon managed on Love Travels at Illegal Speeds.

More to the point, Damian adds his own stamp. And while I’m at it, I love the way he sings ‘tatters’.

Both songs have their roots in Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell’s musical Re-energize. But while Gary penned the lyrics, Dee wrote the music.

Furthermore, he plays everything you hear on the record other than the drums, which were added by Stereolab sticksman and studio engineer Andy Ramsay.

Re-energize was commissioned by Derry’s Playhouse Theatre as part of 2013’s Derry City of Culture celebrations, with performances there and at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, and John O’Neill also involved.

DONeill_Trapped_webThe play follows four downtrodden individuals from Belfast who, now middle-aged and on hard times, decide against all the odds to reform their old punk band and in effect get a ‘second chance’.

Initially, the O’Neill brothers were commissioned to write eight pieces of music to lyrics by Gary, to be performed by the actors live on stage.

John wrote three, Dee came up with four, and they co-wrote another. And as Dee put it, “The songs went down really well, so I decided to take things further and record five of the songs myself.”

So why ‘vinyl only’, I asked, when we recently caught up on the phone and talked about Damian’s solo work, his multi-band workload, and much more.

“Well, I’ve always loved vinyl, and never really stopped buying it. It’s not a fetish, but … come on, it’s just nicer, isn’t it?

“It’s the artwork more than anything. CDs are just so cold. And I would say this of course, but this sounds so good on vinyl, with the kind of warmth CDs and digital don’t have.”

How did you get to know Gary Mitchell?

“I only met Gary at the beginning of last year, as part of the City of Culture celebrations, when he was writing his sequel to Energy, which was set during the Hunger Strike, so kind of gritty.

Play Time; Gary Mitchell

Play Time; Gary Mitchell

“The follow-up is present day, and things haven’t worked out too well for the band. They’re all kind of down on their luck and in debt, but over the course of the play they start going over old songs.

“And those were written by me and John, to lyrics by Gary. We were commissioned to write the kind of songs we would have written when we were 17.

“I got really into it, more than John really. His songs were more ballady, mine were more harder-edged. And I thought I should really do something with these.

“We couldn’t just let the play happen and that’s it. Consequently, I recorded five of the songs in London, paying for it all myself.

“In the play it’s the actors singing, but this time I did everything myself, with Andy adding the drums.

“I was really pleased with the result and through a friend this little label, Overground Records, heard the songs, and picked two for a single.”

Do you think you might expand on that to make an album?

“Well, I could. I’ll see how this goes. There’s definitely another I co-wrote with John that I really like, equally as good. If this gets a good reaction, I’ll possibly put another single out.”

Derry’s City of Culture celebrations were clearly an exciting time to be back in your home city.

“That was amazing, and we got lucky with the weather too, around 25 degrees – unheard of weather over there!”

He's Frank: The Return of Colmcille writer Frank Cottrell Boyce

He’s Frank: The Return of Colmcille writer Frank Cottrell Boyce

I recall there was involvement from one of my favourite authors too, Frank Cottrell Boyce, who was commissioned to write The Return of Colmcille.

“We met him, and he was a lovely guy. My daughter loves his books, and I got a really nice picture of him with her.

“He’s a sweet man, and a big, big Undertones fan of course. I think he also got John to do some music for the event too.”

Do you still get over to Northern Ireland a fair bit?

“Pretty much, with Undertones shows and stuff. We’re often playing dates in Ireland, and I go over to rehearse a few times, and for family reasons as well.”

Was this a first for you – working on soundtracks?

“Well, in 2001, there was A Quiet Revolution, my solo album, but none of those tracks ever got used for films or anything.”

I was only listening to that album again the day before speaking to Damian. I put it to him that maybe some of those tracks are still waiting to be discovered.

“Well, yeah, I know!”

It was a rather experimental affair, but fantastically quirky, and there are some lovely moments on there.

“There are, actually. I hadn’t heard it for ages but then played some tracks recently. Some of it’s not stood the test of time and some tracks are a bit long, but I’m still very proud of it.

“It was a cathartic time to do it. At the time, things weren’t going too well for me, personally, and it was great just to have this release.

“It didn’t sell, but I didn’t care. It was just so good to get it out. ”

A+Quiet+Revolution+-+A+Quiet+Revolution+-+CD+ALBUM-429928It was released on Alan McGee’s label, Poptones, wasn’t it?

“Yeah, he knew me from That Petrol Emotion and The Undertones, and was very enthusiastic at the time.

“But things didn’t goo too well with the label itself, and we kind of lost touch after that.”

Actually, Damian later remembered a track he recorded on the 1998 No Flies on Frank EP – recording as O’Neill – for a French label called Artefact, called Moon Tide, which was used on the soundtrack of Hamlet, the year 2000 film starring Ethan Hawke.

In fact, I suspect he has a few home recordings from over the years too, possibly waiting to be shared, although some may be outside the remit of his current two-band existence.

“Yeah, these last few years I’ve been getting inspired again, and I have lots of instrumental tracks – not sample-based anymore, but with guitar, drums and bass.

“There are a few nice slow, even Irish folky pieces I want to do something with, maybe next year. But these things seem to take forever.

“Take this single for example, which we recorded this time last year. It’s taken a whole year. And that’s only two songs!”

Do you think the single might re-fuel interest in Gary’s play?

“Well, we’ll see. That would be good. The play ran a week in Derry, then two in Belfast. It was supposed to come to London and Glasgow, but never did.”

When you’re writing songs, do you start with a guitar?

“Virtually always. I just come up with a riff and build it up. And if it’s really good, that’s when I’ll take it into a studio.

“But these days no one’s going to fund it for you, so you have to do it all yourself, and it all takes time.

Derry Finery: The Undertones, first time around, with Damian second right. Note the clothes. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

Derry Finery: The Undertones, first time around, with Damian second right. Note the clothes. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

“You have to be so independently-minded now. Bands like The Undertones and That Petrol Emotion got lucky in the fact that we were around when there were pots of money about.

“There were all these record companies that might spend half a million on a project, then write them off as a tax loss.

“Those days are long gone, but that’s the way it is and I kind of like the fact that I’m dealing with a small, independent label now.

“Maybe next time I might put something out myself on my own label. That’s just more exciting!”

You’ve clearly taken to the PledgeMusic idea, judging by the success of that approach with The Everlasting Yeah.

“Yeah we reached and exceeded our target, which was great. That said, a lot of that was down to Raymond and his PR skills, social media and so on.”

When I caught up with Damian, there was a slight delay on the finished project, with a national vinyl shortage (I kid you not) holding back the official release date.

“It was the same with my single, which should have been out months ago.”

It seems like you have a more organic all-together jamming approach with The Everlasting Yeah. Does that suit you?

“I think it suits the four of us, and although personally I’m not really into jamming, it seems that when we get together it really works well.

“It’s a bit of a cliché talking about chemistry, but there’s definitely something going on.

“Especially when Brendan and Ciaran are locked in together. It’s the most powerful bass and drums I’ve ever heard. They’re such a great power unit together.”

997047_471064599702314_4521807066013059699_n (1)I’ve always loved the harmonies with all of your bands, and they seem even more important to The Everlasting Yeah – in the absence of an out and out front-man.

“Exactly, and I hope you won’t be disappointed by the end result on this album.”

I can add now – since my conversation with Damian – that I certainly am not disappointed, as my review of Anima Rising here will suggest.

“It’s more experimental than the Petrols, and there are longer songs. I guess we’re a little older and realise we can do what we want now.

“We don’t have some record company set to cut it down to three minutes or whatever. We do what we want.

“And the influences are still very much there. There’s a lot of Can going on, for a start.”

Incidentally, if you go to Damian’s wikipedia entry, there’s a clearly non-English written explanation of what The Everlasting Yeah are all about. It’s nuts, but I quite like it.

Apparently, they play ‘kosmische Krautrock influenced Musik mixed with most individual soundscapes creating most amazing atmospheres with powerful guitary, percussionized tunes.”

So that’s cleared that up then.

Of course, Damian was also a bass hero to me in those early days of the Petrols, and certainly knows his way around keyboards too.

So what else does he play? Everything but the drums, I’m guessing.

“Well, I can play drums a bit actually! I didn’t play them on the single, but I have an electronic kit at home, so I kind of guided Andy on what I wanted.”

Everlasting Appeal: Damian, Brendan and Ciaran at the Dirty Water, with Raymond just out of shot (Kate Greaves)

Everlasting Appeal: Damian, Brendan and Ciaran at the Dirty Water, with Raymond just out of shot (Kate Greaves)

Judging by my interviews with Raymond a few months ago, that all goes back to your shared school days and home upbringing back in Derry, doesn’t it?

“Yeah, and in our house we were always encouraged to pick up an instrument.

“I was at the same secondary school as Raymond, and if you passed a test you were given an instrument for the orchestra.

“I asked for a saxophone but was given a trombone, and only lasted about a week. They then took it back and didn’t encourage me. And that still rankles.”

Perhaps if it was a few years later you might have heard the likes of Rico Rodriguez playing trombone, and taken a bit more interest.

“Yeah, or Big Jim Paterson! Who knows.”

So was it an Andy Mackay influence that drew you to the sax?

“I probably didn’t know much Roxy Music at 14 or 15, but it was a sexy instrument, and I’d probably seen some jazz on television and kind of liked it.

“But I guess it was too far out for a school orchestra.”

As it was, Damian learned guitar instead, and was later deemed good enough to step in to take middle-brother Vinny’s place in The Undertones by 1976.

Teenage_Kicks_2You probably know the rest, not least the international reaction triggered by John Peel’s love of their Teenage Kicks EP for Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations Records, recorded one wet and miserable day in Belfast in mid-June, 1978, when youngest band member Dee was just 17.

Those next five years saw The Undertones record four memorable studio albums, his own writing and co-writing credits including classics like Family Entertainment, Male Model, True Confessions, Mars Bars, More Songs About Chocolate and Girls ….

I’ll stop there before I get carried away, but I got to 26 songs over those albums, and at least another dozen from his TPE days.

The background of that whole story was told in recent years by a couple of very good documentaries, most recently the BBC 4 version, Here Comes the Summer, which promoted me to write this appreciation of the band.

“Yes, it was very good, and so was the first one, Teenage Kicks. I loved both for different reasons.

“And the BBC one was good because it delved more into the political side and the music itself.”

I still get the feeling that you’re still a little embarrassed by all this adulation and attention. Not just you, but John, Billy and Mickey.

But I’ve always seen that as part of the band’s charm. You’re certainly not ‘up yourselves’, so to speak.

“Well, that’s good! I have to say it can get frustrating with John though. He’s such a talent but lacks confidence sometimes.

“There’s a certain humility and humbleness, and that is great, but it can get a little negative sometimes!”

Of course, Raymond – particularly as the driver of The Everlasting Yeah – seems to be at the complete opposite end of that scale.

“He’s the total opposite! If anything, he’s over-optimistic!

“But I also have to say that Raymond and John saved me at a time when I was having a very bad time – back living in Twickenham, doing nothing, on the dole.”2013-10-16-GoodVibrationsGetting briefly back to The Undertones, a fictionalised version of the band turned up in Good Vibrations, the charming 2012 film telling the story of Belfast indie guru Terri Hooley.

So what did Damian make of that evocative effort?

“Oh, the film’s great, absolutely brilliant!”

Was it a little odd to find five lads on the big screen playing yourselves?

“It was weird, kind of surreal, watching myself on celluloid. My only criticism was that we didn’t look like that.

“They had Sharkey with the parka – fair enough. I don’t think he wore one back then, but he could have, so that’s fine.

“But the rest of us looked like country bumpkins! No way! Most of us would have worn leather jackets or something.

“That said, the film was great. I was a little apprehensive. It could have been awful, but while they took licence with the truth a bit, they got the spirit.

“It was very funny, and Richard Dormer (who played Terri) was amazing.”

So let’s cut to the chase, Damian. How easy is it function in two bands at a time?

“Well, The Undertones remains my bread and butter, and it’s quite easy in the sense that we don’t play that much these days.

“Summer’s always busy, with lots of festivals, and there are European tours here and there.”

In fact, the band were about to set out on a brief run of dates in France, Switzerland and Germany when we spoke, with three more already in the diary for Dublin, Clapham and Paris next year too.

“We love playing in Europe now. In fact, I think we’d rather play there than over here. Don’t get me wrong though – we get a great reception wherever we go.

“We deliberately didn’t do too many shows here this year, but probably will again next year.”

But it appears that two bands and a solo project isn’t enough for Damian, as he explained.

“I’m actually in another project as well. We haven’t played yet, we’re just practicing, but we’re called The Noirs, with kind of a garage, 60s sound. So watch this space!”

Fantastic. London-based?

“Yeah, with a couple of friends. It’s early days though. I wrote a few songs a couple of years ago with a kind of ‘60s, r’n’b feel.

“We’ve found a girl singer in the last few months, and Nick Brown, from Intoxica Records, plays bass with us. But we’re still at the home practising stage.”

Fond Farewell: That Petrol Emotion say goodbye. From the left, Raymond Gorman, Steve Mack, Ciaran McLaughlin, Brendan Kelly, Damian O'Neill (Photo: Dave Walsh)

Fond Farewell: That Petrol Emotion say goodbye. From the left, Raymond Gorman, Steve Mack, Ciaran McLaughlin, Brendan Kelly, Damian O’Neill (Photo: Dave Walsh)

Of course, the Petrols started with a female vocalist. But I got the feeling from Raymond that the experience of finding the right singer back then was enough to put him off that process again.

“True. But Steve (Mack) was of course amazing, and a great performer.

“Every band needs a vocal point, and what’s great about being in The Undertones is that I can take a back-seat. Paul McLoone is a true front-man, with the audience glued on him.

“That’s what it should be about really. I like taking a back-seat.”

I know what you mean, and still have great memories of my very first sighting of The Undertones, mark two, at the Mean Fiddler the day before the Fleadh in June 2000.

“Ah, thanks! I remember that well. It was a great show.”

So what’s it like to be in The Undertones in 2014, as opposed to maybe in 1982 or 1983?

“Oh, it’s a lot happier and a lot more relaxed.”

I guess you’ve got nothing to prove now either.

“Yeah, and back then, in those years you mention, it was very depressing and we were under pressure from the record company, EMI, to get a hit.

“Things weren’t going well with Feargal, and it was all falling apart. It was pretty miserable actually.

“But now – fast forward all these years – we play gigs when we want to play and we’re doing it all for the right reasons.

“And the songs still sound great, and we can still put on a great show as well!”

It only recently struck me that you were only 22 when The Undertones split. Did you feel let down by that experience?

“Yeah. I’d moved to London a year earlier, and was the only one who had. So I was kind of ready to branch out and do something else, although of course I wanted us to stay together.

Flick Off: Dee about to witness a highly-illegal Subbuteo flick-kick in 1980's My Perfect Cousin video

Flick Off: Dee about to witness a highly-illegal Subbuteo flick-kick in 1980′s My Perfect Cousin video

“Despite everything, the split was still a bit of a shock. I tried to get a band together with Mickey, called Eleven. But it was pretty bad. We lost the plot, I think.”

Well, you say that, but I’ll stand up for Eleven, even if neither yourself or Mickey will!

I saw Eleven a couple of times at the Marquee in 1984, then aged 16, at a time when I was starting to travel up to more gigs in London.

I loved the band at the time, enjoyed your John Peel session, and loved David Drumgold’s booming voice.

“Really? Ah, it’s all still painful for me, and I haven’t heard any of that stuff for years. Actually, I was looking at some publicity photos taken at that time, and my God!

”We were going over the top with the haircuts and clothes. We lost our way. But anyway, it never happened.”

I think Damian’s lost for words at this point, but he soon composes himself again, and I ask if he stayed in touch with the rest of that band.

“I was talking with Mickey about this the other day, and David is an actor and in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert now.”

I had spotted that myself recently, but Damian then told me something I hadn’t realised – that the band’s drummer, Fred Ravel, who went back to his native France when Eleven split, died from a brain haemorrhage this year. Very sad.

Moving on a little further forward, is that right that Dee was on the verge of joining Dexy’s Midnight Runners around the time That Petrol Emotion formed?

“No, that’s been said, but I was never offered the chance to join Dexy’s.

“Kevin Rowland knew I was a fan and rang me up, inviting me along to Birmingham to watch them rehearse. I still don’t really know why, but it was great to meet him.”

Dexys_Midnight_Runners_Don't_Stand_Me_DownWas that in the post-Too Rye Ay business suit days, when they were working on Don’t Stand Me Down and might have passed for accountants?

“Yeah, exactly! Just about a year before that came out. They were wearing those suits and going through those songs.”

It was kind of odd, and so different to what had come before, but I still loved that album.

“Yeah, and it’s become iconic now, a classic. Actually, I saw them at the Duke of York last year, and I believe they’ve made a film out of those shows.

“The night I went was really great, and I still revere him. He phoned me up last year, we were chatting away and were supposed to meet for a cup of tea, but somehow never did.”

Initially, you were writing most of your songs with Mickey. But despite all those songs over the years, you’ve only had two part-credits on the last two Undertones albums.

“Yeah. It’s funny, but when we started recording again as The Undertones I just wasn’t that inspired to come up with much.

“But if we were to make a new record now, I’d definitely have a lot more to offer. I did write the last single though – Much Too Late.

That was also vinyl only, for Record Store Day in 2012. I also co-wrote the b-side for that single, When It Hurts.”

I can vouch for the fact that both tracks suggested there’s plenty more life in The Undertones candle too.

That’s good to know too, because it’s been seven years since the last album, Dig Yourself Deep.

Meanwhile, time marches on, Damian is now 53, and has been based in London for 32 years now.

These days, he’s happily married, with a 14-year-old daughter, based south of the river, as he has been for much of his years in the capital.

I find it hard to accept he’s that age, and also can’t quite get my head around the fact that it’s 30 years next summer since I first chanced upon That Petrol Emotion at The Pindar of Wakefield in King’s Cross and The Enterprise in Chalk Farm in June, 1985.

With that in mind, we reminisce a little about those early TPE gigs, not just there but also venues in Finsbury Park, Hammersmith, Kennington, Kentish Town, Kilburn, Tuffnell Park, and more.

High Octane: That Petrol Emotion, from the left,  Ciaran, John, Steve, Damian, Raymond

High Octane: That Petrol Emotion, from the left, Ciaran, John, Steve, Damian, Raymond

I add that although I love a lot of those Petrols albums, I don’t think – and this could just be me with my nostalgic John O’Neill specs on – the band ever quite managed to capture the magic of those very first gigs on vinyl.

“I don’t think we ever did manage to replicate that feeling on an album, but Final Flame, the live album, was as close as we got to capturing that.”

There were a few covers in those early days too, as well as lots of great songs that ended up on Manic Pop Thrill and the early 12”s, such as Pere Ubu’s Non-Alignment Pact and Captain Beefheart’s Zig-Zag Wanderer.

Despite the power of all three bands Damian has recorded with, to my knowledge there has not been any cross-over, recording-wise.

But I do recall the Petrols tackling – at the Kennington Cricketers – an Undertones song, Bitter Sweet, one which only ended up on a later issue of The Sin of Pride.

“I think we did that a couple of times. Bitter Sweet was always one of John’s favourites, and originally it wasn’t on the last album.

“That was probably the last straw for John. He was so pissed off about that, but we didn’t fight to keep it on for some reason.

“So no one really heard it again until that album was re-released, years later.

“I think you’re right, we did do it with Steve at the Cricketers. And we probably did cut it in the end.”

Does Damian ever think he will move back to Derry?

“Only if the sun starts shining! But never say never. My heart’s always there, and part of me never left. I’m always over.

Past Days: The Undertones, with Dee out front

Past Days: The Undertones, with Dee out front

“That’s another great thing about being in The Undertones. I’m back and forth quite a lot.

“There’s things I love about the humour and the people, although there’s things that really get you down as well.

“I think I’m more of a Derry person than Raymond and Ciaran actually. They don’t get back so much. I’m more attached to the place.”

Talking of Stroke City, as it’s been dubbed in more recent times because of its twin-identity as both Derry and Londonderry – what’s John up to between Undertones engagements these days.

“Do you remember he was in a band called Rare? Well, he’s now teamed up with Locky Morris in a new project.

“Less samples and loops, but the same kind of area. They’re slowly getting a bunch of songs together. John’s devoting a lot of time to new songs for that.”

Did you ever think when you first joined The Undertones that you might still be doing it all four decades later?

“No, course not! Even when the first LP was out, we didn’t think we’d last long. We never thought of it as a career.”

There’s a funny story on the reissued first album sleeve-notes about the band almost splitting after the debut album, with Mickey threatening to quit.

“I remember that very well. He sat us all in a room and said, “I’m leaving the band now. I’ve done all I wanted to achieve.

“We were flabbergasted! Fortunately, our manager had a quick word with him.”

Finally, how about the O’Neill ‘middle-sibling’, Vinnie? Do you think he regretted handing over his place in The Undertones to his little bro all those years ago?

“No! I think Vinnie’s long over it. There were never any sour grapes there. None at all!”

To order a copy of Damian’s limited edition Trapped in a Cage 7″ on vinyl, head to this Overground Records link here.

And for more news on The Everlasting Yeah and how to get a copy of Anima Rising, check out their Facebook page or contact vanming7@gmail.com.  

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Living the Good Life – the Martina Cole interview

Publishing Phenomenon: Martina Cole (Photo: Charlotte Murphy)

Publishing Phenomenon: Martina Cole (Photo: Charlotte Murphy)

Martina Cole is a publishing phenomenon, having made a habit of smashing sales records with each of her 21 novels.

Her hard-hitting, uncompromising writing is in a genre all of its own, and as her publisher puts it, ‘no one writes like Martina’.

She’s sold in excess of 13 million copies, three years ago surpassing the £50m sales mark – the first British female novelist for adult audiences to achieve this.

Yet she left school at 15 without qualifications and – married and 16 and divorced at 17 – was a single mum living in a run-down council flat by the time she was 18.

Back then, Martina took on numerous jobs, but with little or no money coming in for socialising, she would write to keep herself entertained after her son was put to bed.

At the age of 21, having lost both parents within six months, she started out on what would become her debut novel, Dangerous Lady.

For almost a decade, nothing happened. But when she was 30 she gave up a job running a nursing agency and bought an electric typewriter, deciding to ‘give it a year’.

The rest was history, Martina posting her manuscript one Friday and agent Darley Anderson telling her that following Monday evening she was going to be a big star.

Her 1992 debut was bought by Headline for a record-breaking advance, becoming an instant bestseller.

And two decades on, Martina is the acknowledged queen of crime drama, with The Good Life her 13th consecutive book to top the original fiction charts.

THE GOOD LIFEThe latest publishing hit takes her tally up to 60 weeks at the top of the listings. Doesn’t it still seem a bit surreal for this Essex girl?

“Yeah, it does, 13 hardbacks straight off! I’ve been lucky really. With certain authors, every now and again a book comes along and interrupts that flow, like a book from a film. But that’s not happened with me.”

No other author has spent more time on The Bookseller’s original fiction chart. That’s some accolade in itself.

“It is. It’s a great feeling.”

The Good Life follows the tale of wrong ‘un Cain Moran, wife Caroline and mistress Jenny, and is typically gritty, although Martina’s fans won’t need me to tell them that.

As the publishing blurb tells us, “Cain Moran wanted Jenny Riley more than he had ever wanted anyone or anything before in his life. But loving Jenny Riley was the easy part; it was telling his wife he wanted a divorce that was going to be the killer.”

Let’s just say it’s hardly a twist on the Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal ‘escape from the rat race’ sitcom of the same name.

“Err, no, although Cain’s got quite a nice house. Then again, I do grow my own veg!”

Does Martina sympathise with any of the characters more than others?

“I always do. Caroline’s comes over as not a nice person, but towards the end of the book you realise she’s not very well.

“Then there’s the son, Michael, and the other son Cain Jr. I love Jenny too, she’s a great character, and Cain’s a brilliant character to write.

“I love writing big powerful men and women, and Eileen, the mother, was a joy to write, and so funny.”

Has there been a fair element of your own life experience in your characters over the years?

81obDGCONKL._SL1500_“Nothing at all. They’re just stories.”

Are you just a good listener and judge of character then?

“I think like most people, it’s probably 50/50.”

So it’s more an outside interest in the world of violence, not first-hand experience.

“Well, I grew up on a huge council estate, and anyone who does has a kind of working knowledge of that kind of world.

“People find all that fascinating. I know I do. And because I had the street patois and jargon, people think it’s all true.

“When I do book signings, people ask ‘Is that about the so-and-so family?’ Even in Manchester and Liverpool I get that!”

“And mine are the most stolen books in shops apparently, and the most requested in prisons.”

There’s no arguing with that. In fact, I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was given the chance of a one-to-one with Martina.

Of course I don’t let on, using a little easily seen-through questioning instead.

Do you find those who interview you a little scared of what they might find?

“No! I’m not even five feet tall. I’m only a tiny little thing.”

Are you more a doting mum and grandma then?

“When I haven’t got huge heels on and people see me, I think they’ve surprised, expecting some six foot woman drinking pints of lager, getting in fights or something.”

That reminds me of a delicious quote she told Deborah Ross in The Independent three years ago, revealing her Irish grandmother saying, ‘You must always have a good mattress and good shoes, as when you’re not on one you’re on the other’.

“Yeah. That’s one of my Nan’s best ones!”

Martina has swapped her native Aveley, Essex, for Kent now, living with her 17-year-old daughter and close to her 37-year-old son and his family.

That gets me thinking of Wilko Johnson in Julien Temple’s fantastic Dr. Feelgood biopic Oil City Confidential, talking about this ‘promised land’ – Kent, the supposed Garden of England – across the water from Canvey. I share that vision with Martina.

“Yeah! And talking of Wilko, I’m so glad he’s better now.”

That leads us on to a discussion about the legendary guitarist’s amazing battle against cancer, one that until very recently appeared to have a terminal outlook.

“But I don’t feel like I’ve come to the Promised Land. I moved over to Kent because my son moved out of Brixton, married and started a family. I just wanted to be near my grandchildren.”

So, it’s more a practical move, and you still love Essex too.

“Oh God, yeah!”

The-Take-promo-pics-tom-hardy-10462419-972-475Several of Martina’s novels have been adapted, most recently The Take and The Runaway, both for Sky One, and Two Women, The Graft and Dangerous Lady for the stage.

Will that be the case for The Good Life?

“We’ve some things in the pipeline, but until you get the scheduling date it’s pointless.

“But we’re making the feature film of The Ladykiller, set in and around Essex, with Genesius Pictures, who’ve just done Northern Soul.”

I recall Ian Rankin saying he has all the DVD box-sets of Rebus but can’t watch them as he’s scared of losing sight of who his characters are in his own head. Is that a concern for you?

“I’m an executive producer and I scripted it. So I don’t feel like that. And for me, Tom Hardy was just fantastic. He became the character, Freddie Jackson.

“I always had Freddie in my mind as a much bigger man, but Tom’s such a great actor and had the power of Freddie, and that’s what we needed.”

I’m guessing you were there to see Two Women at the Theatre Royal in Stratford. A proud moment?

“Yeah, that was the best! I was absolutely thrilled with it.”

Were you quite confident in front of the cameras too, when you narrated and fronted ITV’s Lady Killers documentary?

936610“I was a bit nervous, but I did it with a friend. It was the same when I did Girl Gangs. That was with Debbie Gray at Genesius Pictures, who I’m now working with to bring The Ladykiller to the screen. And we’ve been friends for a long time.”

A readers’ poll for the madaboutbooks website in 2011 cited The Take as your most popular novel then. Dare I ask if you have a favourite above all others?

“I thing of all my books I’ve ever written, it would be Two Women or Faceless for me, because I really like the characters, Marie Carter and Susan Dalston.”

Revenge came out this time last year, and now The Good Life’s out. Is that a do-able turnaround for you – a book a year?

“Yeah. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it.”

Are you already working on the next novel?

“I’m well on with that. It’s the third in the trilogy for The Ladykiller, so I’m going back to my Essex roots for this one.”

Overall, it’s 21 books in 22 years. I’m guessing the inspiration well’s not running dry.

“I’m so lucky I’m always getting ideas. I’ve reams and reams of ideas written down. Sometimes they might make a book, sometimes just a chapter.

“I’m always pitching things. I have two or three scenarios going at one time and the one that pulls me nearest to it is the one I write.”

What hours do you tend to keep at the keyboard? Are you a night owl?

“Yeah, I always have been – typical Essex girl! I do like my nights out. When it’s 10 o’clock and everyone else is getting settled down for the night, I’m off, turning my laptop on and getting ready to go.”

coleMartina has a seven-year-old grandson and four-year-old grand-daughter in the picture too these days. Is her family a distraction?

“My kids are pretty easy-going with me. They all think I’m mad, some nutcase. But they make allowances.”

Martina was the youngest of five children from a large Irish family, with her mum a psychiatric nurse and her dad a merchant seaman.

She attended a convent school, but was expelled at the age of 15, telling Deborah Ross in that same interview, “A nun threw an O-level physics textbook at me so I threw it back, which didn’t go down too well.”

Martina did enjoy her English lessons though, and her teacher told her that if she put her mind to it, she had a future in writing.

Did that Irish upbringing in Essex make Martina something of an outsider?

“No! We all started with Irish accents. We hadn’t really known anything else.

“My Nan came for the weekend once and lived with us the next 11 years. Mum was from Dublin, Dad from Cork, all the Nuns were Irish, and all the kids were Irish, Italians …”

Did your parents’ work ethic come through in you?

“Yeah. My mum used to work every Christmas, doing night-shifts because it was double-money. When you’re grown up and have children of your own you realise how hard they did work.

“I remember Mum coming home in the early hours, cooking the turkey then trying to get a couple of hours of sleep.

“In them days she was on double money and got a day in lieu. That’s why she did it.”

Stage Struck: Martina at the Theatre Royal in Stratford in 2011 (Photo: http://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/)

Stage Struck: Martina at the Theatre Royal in Stratford in 2011 (Photo: http://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/)

Did you read a lot as a child?

“I was always reading, and still am. I’ve a house in Northern Cyprus, and this summer read over a hundred books there – a book a day!”

You’ve not been won over by e-readers then?

“No, I hate them, but if it gets people reading, it’s a force for good. I prefer the physical book though.”

For all her success, Martina clearly hasn’t forgotten her roots, and still makes time for issues she feels strongly about, such as initiatives to improve prison conditions, and giving occasional creative writing workshops for inmates.

She’s also a patron of Chelmsford Safer Places, an ambassador for the one-parent family group Gingerbread, and works with The Reading Agency, encouraging less confident adult readers

Martina is also a great advocate of public libraries, and I ask what she makes of our current Government seeming to want to do away with many of our libraries in a bid to cut public spending.

“I’ll fight all that! I loved the library then and still love a library now. Not everyone’s lucky enough to be in a family where books are everywhere.

“There were always lots of books in our house, and the library was a haven to me.

I did an event once, either in Bradford or Barnsley, on a Tuesday night, and the mill owners there had left such a beautiful building.

“It was pouring down with rain that night, there was this big EastEnders storyline at the time, and I wondered just who was going to turn up.

“But I walked down this big circular stairway and at the bottom this huge auditorium, out of this world. No one would build anything like that now.

“You look at a building like that and think, is this going to end up as a restaurant? We’ve got to keep all these things. Because once you lose your high street and your libraries …

“Not everyone thinks the ‘be all and end all’ is going to the Bluewater, Lakeside or the Trafford Centre.”

Martina's Inspiration: A documentary about Jackie Collins helped put Martina on the path to success

Martina’s Inspiration: A documentary about Jackie Collins helped put Martina on the path to success

Did you have aspirations of making it as a writer, or was that just for posh kids?

“I used to lay in bed dreaming about it. I saw a documentary on Jackie Collins, saw this walk-in wardrobe and thought ‘oh, my God, look at her house!’

“I was always writing – poetry and stories. I love the written word.”

Who does she aspire to be when she’s writing?

“I’ve got my own genre. I don’t aspire to be anyone. I write from the point of view of the criminal not the police, and couldn’t write about the same person all the time. That would get on my nerves.

“I like to have a big canvas so I can create all these weird and wonderful people.”

I then ask Martina which authors she most admires, and she’s away, coming out with a few perennial favourites then looking around for more inspiration on her shelves.

Along the way, she name-checks AJ Cronin for The Citadel and Hatter’s Castle, saying ‘I love them big melodramas’.

Then there’s Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard, Philippa Gregory’s historical books, and she’s still going.

“I’m a book maniac, really. I’m looking round my bedroom now and I’ve got Orhan Pamuk, a lot of Turkish authors, and lots of books that have been translated.

“Recently I read The Son by Philipp Meyer, and that was absolutely brilliant. And I do like reading foreign books too.

“I remember years ago reading Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, buying it at an airport, possible Amsterdam, and read it on the plane, telling everyone ‘you’ve got to read this!’

“I hated the film though, and similarly, I’m frightened to see Gone Girl, because the book (by Gillian Flynn) was so good.

“And if you like horror, read The Girl with All the Gifts (by MR Carey). I was in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore on tour last year, and got a proof copy, and thought it was even better than World War Z (Max Brooks).”

Good Life: Martina Cole enjoys a little time away from the keyboard

Good Life: Martina Cole enjoys a little time away from the keyboard

Martina clearly loves her long escapes to the sunshine and Northern Cyprus as much as her midnight vigils at the keyboard.

“We’ve been going out there so long, my daughter writes and reads in Turkish, and for me it’s the climate – it can’t get hot enough for me. I love the food and the culture too.

“I go away for the whole summer now, if I’m not filming or writing something, and go to Istanbul a lot.

“In fact, I’ve been going to this beautiful little bookshop there so long that the man saves me books!

Finally, if you were only now rediscovering that first novel you wrote when you were 20, would you change much about it to make it work?

“I don’t think so. I’d change all my books if I could – no author’s ever happy with them. But if I ended up writing it again, it would probably end up the same!”

And how old will her grandchildren be before they’re allowed to read her books?

“Not until they’re 15 or 16! My books aren’t for the faint-hearted. But my daughter’s at college and she’s reading The Good Life, and really enjoying it.”

Martina Cole is a special guest at a SilverDell book event at Preston’s County Hall on Tuesday, November 11 (7pm), talking with BBC Radio Lancashire presenter John Gillmore before a Q&A and book signing session.

Tickets are £5, redeemable against copies of The Good Life on the night. For details call 01772 6823444 or go to info@silverdellbooks.com.

Martina is also hosting a Waterstones book-signing session at Manchester’s Trafford Centre (12.30pm – 1.30pm, Wednesday, November 12) and a Reading Agency event at Southend Forum Library (7.30pm – 9pm, Wednesday, November 19).

For more details about those and future events, head to her official website here

This is a revised and expanded version of an earlier Malcolm Wyatt feature for the Lancashire Evening Post, first published on Saturday, November 8. 

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The Everlasting Yeah – Anima Rising

Rising Stock: The Everlasting Yeah have made a debut album to be proud of (Photo: Kate Greaves)

Rising Stock: The Everlasting Yeah have made a debut album to be proud of (Photo: Kate Greaves)

It’s arrived at last. The pledges have been counted, the funds have been crowded, and the cats are finally out of the bag.

So welcome one and all to the mighty sound of The Everlasting Yeah and their debut album Anima Rising.

The recipe? In a sense it’s four parts That Petrol Emotion, topped up with an infinite dose of good old-fashioned guitar and harmony-driven rock’n’roll.

This is an album to savour too, those of us who put our hard-earned shekels and shillings down ahead of this defining release feeling a warm glow and keen sense of justifiable pride at our part in the whole shebang.

How best to explain The Everlasting Yeah? I don’t think I’ll even bother. I hardly managed it over a revealing three-part summer interview with central figure Raymond Gorman – tackling his past, present and future – so it’s unlikely I’ll manage it here.

For the record though, Raymond provides guitar and vocals, Ciaran McLaughlin adds drums and vocals and both share writing duties, Brendan Kelly chips in with bass and backing vocals, and Damian O’Neill – on loan from The Undertones – provides guitar and backing vocals.

According to their own handle, I might add that we’re talking ‘inter-locking uplift groovesters chanting the keltic kosmische musik’. And unlikely as it may seem, that kind of makes sense.

What I can try and tell you about a bit more is the journey itself, or at least the one I encountered in finally getting to hear this glorious seven-part masterpiece.

997047_471064599702314_4521807066013059699_n (1)Only seven tracks in all? Hold on a minute, give The Yeah a break. The finale itself is a mesmerising 12-plus minutes of aural sculpture, and altogether we accumulate around 44 high-octane minutes. What’s more, I’d suggest there’s not an inch on fat on here.

From vinyl waxing dilemmas to administrative delays, we’ve had to keep away from the edge of the platform for longer than we’d care to imagine, with the release date timetable pencilled in somewhat.

But I can now tell you it was well worth the wait, as I suspected it might be.

Opening track A Little Bit of Uh-huh, A Whole Lot of Oh Yeah is a wake-up call if ever there was one, an introductory triumph that sets the tone perfectly.

It’s a fantastic glam-rock cocktail of guitar, harmonies and plenty of attitude, and while we perhaps knew this number more than any other track beforehand, the polished version didn’t disappoint or fail to deliver in any remote sense.

Like most of the tracks that follow, it’s difficult to pin down the age, with influences from The Rolling Stones onwards straddled across this album.

While the driving guitar suggests a glorious early to mid-‘70s nostalgia, a later lead line adds a more definable Petrols sound to remind us who’s in charge on the opener.

Uh Huh: From the left, Damian O'Neill, Brendan Kelly and Raymond Gorman get down to partially-obscured Ciaran McLaughlin's beat (Photo: Lucia Hrda/ http://www.luciahrda.com)

Uh Huh: From the left, Damian O’Neill, Brendan Kelly and Raymond Gorman get down to partially-obscured Ciaran McLaughlin’s beat (Photo: Lucia Hrda/ http://www.luciahrda.com)

Those TPE-like six-strings are there again on the downright funky (Whatever Happened to The) Hoodlum Angels, and there’s another influence I can’t quite place.

In fact, that goes for many of these tracks. You can’t always quite put your finger on the reference points, but know this four-piece are coming from a place of respect and wonder.

I’ll suggest Curtis Mayfield, Television, War and even a Finn Brothers falsetto here – a heady cocktail – but that’s never going to give you the full picture.

Incidentally, on this evidence I’m left wondering why Raymond didn’t get a proper crack at the lead singing thing in the band’s last venture, even with Steve Mack’s prowess in that department.

Meanwhile, those guitars cut in and out over a stonking bass and drum backdrop, with a deeply soulful undercurrent. At a touch over six and a quarter minutes, it ain’t a second too long either, odd as that may seem.

The crackle in the guitars bolsters Raymond’s vocal delivery on New Beat on Shakin’ Street as a properly-organic jam builds pace, the chugging rhythm backed by those bent notes in a frankly sultry little number.

While London-based for some time now, there’s still a distinctly-Derry feel to the vocals too, adding a cutting edge to this particular Northside, Southside, Eastside, Westside story.

Band Substance: The Everlasting Yeah's Raymond Gorman at the Dirty Water (Photo: Kate Greaves)

Band Substance: The Everlasting Yeah’s Raymond Gorman at the Dirty Water (Photo: Kate Greaves)

Again there are hints of other stuff, and I could hit the pause button and rattle the grey matter to try and work out what I’m hearing. But it’s not important.

It’s all in a good cause, the Verlainesque guitar rising to an almost Byrdsian sound as The Yeah reaching Eight Miles High and rising.

If there’s an underlying theme to the proceedings, it’s at its strongest on Taking That Damn Train Again, and again there’s a metamorphosis en route.

This time we start with something of a Mother Sky feel, the band pulling away from Can Central with a slight nod at Franz Ferdinand and The Long Ryders in the sidings as they start out on their long commute.

Beneath it all, Brendan’s bass and Ciaran’s percussion put in the hard slog, while those guitars and added, somewhat sumptuous horns battle it out.

The brass puts me in mind of TPE’s Genius Move, and there’s a Buzzcocks bite too, as this four-piece start Moving Away From The Pulsebeat.

Either way, we invoke the spirit of Eno and Mackay as we call by at Roxy Road, and because this is The Yeah, it’s inevitable that we get a tilt at ‘woo-hoo’ harmonies and a little Sympathy for the Derail before we steam on.

We’ve had some mighty train songs in our time, heading right back to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Mystery Train, Night Train, This Train, People Get Ready and Last of the Steam Powered Trains, to name but a few. But a new arrival is always welcomed.

Still our destination is unknown, but the journey itself is where it’s at, and we reach a new high with the reflective, somewhat mellow Everything’s Beautiful, this time with Ciaran taking centre-stage.

76206_166608816814562_1432096509_nThere are hints of Arthur Lee and Brian Wilson on this heart-tugging ‘60s-tinged nostalgic summer canvas, one which also brings to mind XTC at their most dream-like.

And again I’m pleasantly surprised by the quality of the vocal. We’ve been aware for some years of Ciaran’s songsmithery, but it appears that here’s another unsung band member with a fine voice on him too.

After that brief lull in the proceedings, we’re soon back on board, and there’s more a Ramones than a Beach Boys vibe to Raymond and Ciaran’s shared vocals on All Around the World, a fitting tribute to another prime influence.

Furthermore, we get plenty of under-pinning Undertones guitar, bringing to mind Let’s Talk about Girls in places, before that trademark stirring communal singing sees us on to our finale.

Closing track The Grind‘s choo-choo intro suggests were taking that damn train again, but this time perhaps it’s the freedom express.

At around four minutes in, I note that Ciaran’s still hammering away back there, casting out those demons, his driving force taking us through at least least three phases of an epic track.

Along the way we get everything from those duelling guitars – with Thames Delta r’n’b as well as Stateside rock and that earlier glam flourish.

Some might feel TPE were ultimately injured by their early political over-play, but while the emphasis is on the music now, their finale offers a no holds barred damning of our current 21st century corrosion. And it certainly works.

It’s also a song of hope shining through that frustration though, and a positive sign-posting of what’s ahead.

At eight minutes, we’re still not done, and there’s clearly still more in the Yeah tank, a brief lull and reflective moment leading to that decisive break for the finish line, with elements of Paul Weller’s Dragonfly before we finally express our Anima Rising.

Mic'd Up: Ciaran McLaughlin at the Dirty Water (Photo: Kate Greaves)

Mic’d Up: Ciaran McLaughlin at the Dirty Water (Photo: Kate Greaves)

I’ve always advocated the joy of sub-three and four-minute pop, but somehow The Yeah seem to stand that premise on its head and get away with it – and in style.

What’s next for this refreshing and truly-inspiring outfit? Well, let’s just hope this is just a compelling opening chapter to a mighty adventure story.

Here’s proof, by the gallon, that there’s still life in the rock’n’roll model after all these years, even if this quartet might not be fresh-faced lads with a whole load of growing up in public ahead of them.

This is a combo that has proved you really can peel back the years if you have the right creative and emotional drive.

I know I’ve over-done the hyperbole, with too many motive power analogies for starters. And come to think of it, I hardly even get started on a Jungian perspective in honour of the album title.

But this is a transport of delight, and one designed to overcome life’s Grind in so many ways.

Gorman, Kelly, McLaughlin, O’Neill – take a bow. You’ve earned it, fellas, and Anima Rising was well worth the wait.

540384_480948905380550_502149755230295663_nThis blog will be featuring a brand new feature and interview with Damian O’Neill this coming week, so keep your eyes peeled.

For the first part of a writewyattuk three-part interview with Raymond Gorman, published back in August, head here, then move on to the next manic pop thrilling instalments here then here.

Meanwhile, The Everlasting Yeah make their Scottish live debut at the Stereo Café Bar in Glasgow on Thursday, November 27th. For more information, head here.

And for more news on The Everlasting Yeah and how to get a copy of Anima Rising, check out their Facebook page here or via vanming7@gmail.com.  

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Peace in our time – the Armistice Pals charity project

14827_656212367779248_1623428672226194864_nIn the week legendary American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger died – back in late January – a Lancashire band paid their own emotional live tribute.

In so doing, Wigan octet Merry Hell revisited their own past as The Tansads during an encore at the Clitheroe Grand, inviting that night’s support acts, Preston’s Deadwood Dog and East Lancs combo Panjenix to join them.

The three bands launched into a rusty but powerful cover of Pete’s 1955 anti-war classic Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

But those there on the night couldn’t have realised where that one-off collaboration would lead to.

Some 10 months later, more than 40 artists under the Armistice Pals banner – led by Merry Hell – have been joined by a chorus of more than 100 on a charity version of the song, one which includes the voices of Pete Seeger and his singer-songwriting sibling Peggy Seeger.

The single is out this Remembrance Sunday, November 9, and is already receiving rave reviews, as Merry Hell manager and Armistice Pals publicist Damian Liptrot explained.

And it’s clear from the outset that this 55-year-old Wiganer, who told me his role in Merry Hell is ‘playing the telephone’, is mightily proud of the end result.

The Tansads’ own version was an integral part of their set and featured on 1995 live album, Drag Down the Moon.

Sound Idea: Merry Hell are at the heart of the Armistice Pals project

Sound Idea: Merry Hell are at the heart of the Armistice Pals project

But – nearly two decades after that cover and nearly 60 years since the song was written – it appears that the message remains as poignant as ever.

“The week Pete Seeger passed away, Merry Hell were at the Grand and did a very ramshackle version, having not played it for around 15 years.

“We invited up the two support bands, with the audience reaction absolutely phenomenal.

“The social media feedback was brilliant too. The phrase ‘not a dry eye in the house’ sticks in my mind.”

And now it appears that the single is having a similar effect – albeit far less shambolic.

“That was just the start of it. So many people said ‘that was fantastic’, and when I woke up that next morning, my inner Geldof and inner megalomaniac had had a conversation and were telling me, ‘Don’t let this moment go!’

“I’d been reading so much about the centenary commemorations of the start of the First World War, and that tied in. And because we had those three bands that night, there was a community feel.

Geldof Moment: Damian Liptrot's vision became so much more (Photo: Richard Nixon)

Geldof Moment: Damian Liptrot’s vision blossomed (Photo: Richard Nixon)

“What I think people forget is that not only did all those soldiers die or come back severely wounded – physically and mentally – but whole communities suffered as a result – wives, children, parents.

“That gets forgotten sometimes. There’s always a focus on the bravery of the soldiers.

“There’s also a tie-in with the Pals battalions, many drawn from the Lancashire area, with whole groups of men from a village or town going to fight together.

“These local communities were devastated. So the idea of the Armistice Pals shows respect not just for the suffering and sacrifice of the soldiers, but the effect of that war and subsequent wars on the wider community.”

That just happenned to fit in with this celebrated songwriter’s own philosophy too, didn’t it?

”Absolutely! Pete Seeger was anti-war but also had a huge effect in terms of looking at the way humanity treats each other.

“While that’s sometimes portrayed as naïve and idealistic, that’s kind of what I wanted to reflect.”

Pete was also big on the concept of communal singing, wasn’t he?

“That’s the other thing. We had the Pals chorus, around 100 people coming down to the studio and singing, being added to the mix, including those two other bands from that night.

“We also had members of 21 different folk clubs, from as far away as Conwy, North Wales, and others from Lancaster, Preston and Southport.”

There’s also impressive participation from across the Atlantic, not least Pete’s half-sister Peggy, the widow of Ewan MacColl, now aged 79.

Recording Icon: Peggy Seeger flanked by Helen Meissner from Folkstock Records and recording engineer Lauren Deakin-Davies (Photo: Armistice Pals)

Recording Icon: Peggy Seeger flanked by Helen Meissner from Folkstock Records and recording engineer Lauren Deakin-Davies (Photo: Armistice Pals)

And the four-track CD single also includes Peggy reciting a poem by her uncle, US war poet Alan Seeger, killed at the Somme in 1916.

“When I first had the idea, I tried to contact Peggy, but she was very ill at the time. But she later got to hear about the project in an interview with writer and broadcaster, Simon Jones.

“Simon’s been very encouraging and supportive, and Peggy really liked the idea and asked me to get in touch. I explained the project to her and she really liked it.

“One of the things she mentioned was the community aspect, how we were encouraging folk clubs around the country as close to Remembrance Sunday as possible to carry out community renditions of the song.

“So far we have around 50 clubs involved, from the length and breadth of the country and also in Australia and America, which is phenomenal.”

Music Legacy: Pete Seeger (Photo: Anthony Pepitone)

Music Legacy: Pete Seeger (Photo: Anthony Pepitone)

And that’s Pete’s voice on the recording. So how did you manage that?

“Peggy suggested we get Pete’s voice on there, and John Kettle was able to source a file of Pete singing a capella, in the right key, I think from the 1960s.

“Because the project really took off, I had to look for someone to help, and approached Helen Meissner at Folkstock.

“She does a lot of work with young artists, and I was keen for young artists to be reflected in the project.

“Helen did a phenomenal amount, and with her daughter went to visit Peggy, recording her, then sending John the file. So they’ve been invaluable too.”

As well as being a songwriter and guitarist in The Tansads then Merry Hell, Wigan-based John Kettle is a producer and engineer, and was at the heart of the project.

“Merry Hell recorded the backing track and we then sent that to all the contributors, and most – as recording artists – had access to a studio, so recorded themselves singing the whole track then sent the files back.

“John runs the Old Court Studio in Wigan, where he’s just moved in, with the Armistice Pals chorus the first use of his new studio.

“There were so many files coming back, of variable technical quality, so he did a fantastic job creating the final song.”

10418996_740155686051582_1369239404459957531_nThere’s already been major interest, including airplay from Mark Radcliffe on his Radio 2 folk show?

“There’s been a big surge of interest since that, but also through local and community radio stations all over the country. We see the effect via our Facebook page every time it gets played.”

And like that original moment for Damian at the Clitheroe Grand, when Pete and Peggy come in on the single, there are more ‘not a dry eye in the house’ moments.

“Yes! So many of those involved – particularly the chorus – have said the same, how they never imagined they’d be on a record with Pete and Peggy Seeger.

“It’s so humbling. It went far beyond anything I originally imagined. And the charity aspect is less important in a lot of respects than the community feel.

“At a grass roots folk level it’s been really well received, with radio shows, podcasts, and folk clubs around the region set for themed events, including communal renditions.

“Anything wider than that, such as national radio interest, would just be a bonus.”

1509916_741392005927950_608320073375038121_nIt does appear that Damian’s had to fend off the notion that it’s an ‘anti-troops’ venture though.

“Some people confuse anti-war with anti-troops, but nothing can be further from the truth.

“What would benefit those troops and their families more than not having to go to fight?

“The First World War was – according to that famous quote – the war to end all wars. Unfortunately we only have to look around to see that wasn’t the case.

“Sometimes conflict becomes unavoidable. You only have to look at the Second World War, and the consequences if people hadn’t fought.

“But conflict should always be avoided so as long as the consequences of avoiding it are not worse than the consequences of opposing wrong.

“This isn’t a political statement though. It’s not anti-anything apart from being anti-suffering.”

Four charities benefit from the Armistice Pals project, namely the British Red Cross, The Malala Fund, The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, and Peace Through Folk.

The official release date is November 9, but you can pre-order the single via http://www.armisticepals.com/ which also includes a list of all the artists and supporters involved, and details of related events to mark the project.

This is a revised version of a Malcolm Wyatt feature for the Lancashire Evening Post, first published on November 5th, 2014. 

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