Summary of 2005
PC: 2005 was an interesting and busy year for you. The article in Record Collector, the release of both the Plainsong 3 and Andy Roberts - Just For The Record and the small tour with Dennis Locorriére, the Comedy Festival appearance with Tony Haase and the recording of an album with Maggie Reilly. You have been busy! How did the article in RC come about?
Sanctuary Records handed me Colin Harper, a Belfast-based writer and music archivist, as sleeve-note writer for the Anthology, and also to oversee the compilation. I met Colin over countless coffees at Gatwick Airport as he was going back to Belfast after a Bert Jansch concert, and once I opened my big mouth and started filling up his tape machine, he ventured the opinion that he might be able to do an extended version of the liner notes as a Record Collector article. Later on, Record Collector agreed. About the article, not the big mouth.
PC: The Plainsong 3 release caused quite a stir and with good reviews. Are you pleased with the CD? Do you and Iain feel Plainsong has more life to live? Do you think the format could be revived again?
Yes, it has been good to see all that body of work assembled in one place. Iain put a lot of work into it, then brought it over to Brighton for some mastering, and I think Water have done a good job on it. Judging from my own web sales, it seems to be selling very well. As to the current state of Plainsong, it has been pretty haphazard for the last 8 years with Plainsong. Early on we used to work on the principal that every 2 years we'd make a CD and tour it in the UK and Europe. But that changed when Julian withdrew, and Iain and I then had to accept that Plainsong was really just the 2 of us, at heart. Then we became a bit more sporadic, and although Julian came back in for Pangolins, we have had to fit around so much else - not least Iain and Marly's wedding last year (which focussed Iain in a different way), and the subsequent birth of Luca Mae. Also the relationship with first Line Records, and later Blue Rose, has had a lot to do with what has been possible. In 1998 Willy Russell personally underwrote the recording of New Place Now in Texas, a hugely generous gesture on his part. Currently, we are exploring the possibility of a swansong CD and tour to feature the original 4 members (Iain, myself, Bobby Ronga and David Richards) with guest appearances from the other later members. Definitely an interesting idea, after which we would draw a line under the Plainsong era. Iain wants to bow out, and that would be a nice way to do it. Ideally with Sandy Roberton producing, Jerry Boys engineering, and Harry Isles tour managing! The old firm. What a way to go! We could call it 'We found Amelia Earhart'.
PC: Andy Roberts - Just For The Record... a great compilation of those early years and full record company support. You must be really pleased?
The obvious high point of the year was the release of the Anthology on Sanctuary. They were really supportive in terms of facilities. Firstly, as I've already said they gave me Colin Harper, without whom I couldn't have done it. More importantly they were, on Colin's urging, happy to take a high percentage of tracks from my personal collection, and the mastering they paid for, by Nick Watson at the Townhouse, was excellent.
The early recordings had been plundered by Colin Newman for the so-called "Best of" from 1991, so I didn't want this new collection to be made up of the same things from Home Grown, Everyone and Nina and the Dream Tree. In the event we were able to go with a whole slew of demos and alternate versions, with Sanctuary being completely understanding about it. And all this despite them owning only the original releases, and having to pay for the ones I owned. I owe them a big debt of thanks, because there is nothing more depressing than always having the same tired tracks trotted out every 15 years, or less in some cases, with no variation. This meant that the Anthology was a breath of fresh air from my perspective, with much more depth than any previous effort.
I still feel a bit squeamish about the immaturity of those early tracks – some I like, but some leave me a bit cold. Having said that I was persuaded by Colin Harper that those feelings were not shared by others, and I must say that these songs will never sound better, thanks to the quality of mastering. I’m looking forward to doing a similar job on Great Stampede, which is my absolute favourite amongst my solo efforts.”
PC: Behind the scenes I know you have been working hard to put together CD's of the two albums from the early 70's, Urban Cowboy and AR and the Great Stampede. How are things progressing?
I never intended to put out Urban Cowboy, although I had some offers through the year to do just that. In the end, in consultation with Colin Harper I decided to use a number of UC tracks on the Sanctuary Anthology, and forego any release until much later. I don't consider Urban Cowboy to be a great album, although there are some decent tracks on it. The problem mainly stems from the fact that it was started in November 1971, well before Plainsong was formed, and only completed in March 1973, during my first full tour with GRIMMS. That means that it is very disjointed, which ultimately makes it pretty unsatisfying. Unfortunately, there is an unauthorized pirate copy being sold on the internet: I don't know how it was mastered, but probably from vinyl.
As I say, with the Great Stampede I just want to get it right this time. The failure of EMI to put it out credibly had profound consequences in my life and work, and I have had a number of very attractive offers for a CD release. The debate I'm having with myself is whether it is enough in 2006 to put out just that album on CD, or whether it needs to have extra tracks from my personal collection. People are used to CDs being a lot longer than the old vinyl albums could be, and I want to represent fair value for money, because on quality alone, Great Stampede should be a good selling item. Decision will be taken in the next couple of months, I'd say.
PC: Did you enjoy the gigs with Dennis Locorriére, Clive Gregson and Mark Griffiths? Any plans for more?
I loved the whole process. Dennis is very easy to work with - very solid guitarist, and obviously a world-class singer. Totally amazing voice. Great back catalogue, and excellent new songs as well. Plus it turns out that John Taylor who is his manager did the sound for GRIMMS on 2 tours back in 1975! So I got all that, and that brilliant band. I mean, I'd go a long way to work with Griff and Clive, for starters. Add in Martin Humphries, the old Any Trouble drummer, and you have a truly storming act. There is talk of doing a lot more this year, which would be a great joy. But these things don't always happen as and when they are expected to. Fingers crossed, though, because this band went from sweet acoustic to knock-'em-flat rock, and took no prisoners. Expect gigs in the September to December period of 2006.
PC: How long have you and Tony Haase known each other? For those that didn't make the comedy festival, what is the format of the show? Do you both have plans to take it further?
I got to know Tony at the Edinburgh Festival in 1989. I'd seen him before that with Cliffhanger (the street theatre collective), but I really only knew Pete McCarthy in those days. In 1989 he was doing a show at the Assembly Rooms with Robin Driscoll, called The World of Les and Robert. I thought it was the funniest thing by a mile that year, along with John Hegley at the same venue. They got nominated for the Perrier Award, but Simon Fanshawe nicked it. I stayed in distant touch after that, and we met from time to time once I moved to Brighton - you'll see that Tony is credited with fluffing up the lyric on the version of Wordplay that is on From A to B, for instance. Anyway, when Pete McCarthy died, we held a friends and family only wake, here in Brighton (well, Hove, actually). Tony and I did a piece that was a medley of Johnny Cash's I Walk The Line and Toots and the Maytals' Monkey Man, with lyrics about Pete. Totally mad idea, went down a storm. Later that night, Luke Creswell from Stomp said we should do some more, and an idea was born. Currently, not a lot is going on there, but our plan is to start hosting a regular show, in the manner of Liverpool Scene's nights at O'Connors Tavern in the 60s. We will do part of the show, and also give a platform to other people, established or just starting. The hope is that this will spur us on to more writing, etc. Then we'll see how it builds. It was very hard doing the show last year, because there were such big gaps between the appearances. Tony's material is quite thoughtful, and fairly gentle, with occasional outbursts. The songs are pretty off-the-wall. Titles like Life Is Like Painting A Window and Winky Wanky Woo. However, we recorded the songs, and that makes a good permanent legacy of that show.
PC: You have been working on something very close to your heart for several years now - a proposed release of a LIVERPOOL SCENE collection. Sandy Roberton, the manager of the Liverpool Scene during those years, has been particularly helpful, hasn't he? How close are you to a release?
Not close at all, really. But there is huge progress. We got back all the rights to everything last September. Well, actually we had always had the rights since March 1975, but Sony BMG (who used to be RCA) were still claiming them, and proving that they were wrong has occupied a lot of my time over the last 3½ years. (Sony BMG played hardball for a long while, which was dispiriting but, I suppose, to be expected. Then, when Sandy found the smoking gun (the contract) in his old files, they threw in the towel, and have been sweetness and light ever since. They biked the masters to Heirloon down to Brighton in 2 halves - mad.) Now they have bowed out, so we can decide our own course. Also there is a surprising a mount of visual footage - 4 Granada TV live shows from February 1969, and a 22 minute film of a gig from March 1970 (but sadly this has no sound). We'll get together soon I hope, and have a think about where we go from here. There is a mass of stuff to evaluate, with maybe more to come. What is in the Peel Show archive, for instance?
PC: The Maggie Reilly recording was a nice way to end the year, she has a wonderfully clear and natural voice. How did it come about?
Julian Dawson was involved at the beginning, and he brought me in because the plan was to make a very simple, honest acoustic album. Maggie has a superb voice, very accurate and lovely to listen to, and we hit it off from the start. Then Julian got busy and I carried on working with Maggie and Stuart McKillop, her long-time music director. Stuart found Simon Little on bass, and Steve Taylor on drums, and we've been having a great time playing together. I think the album is pretty well advanced, but my rôle is just to show up when they ask me to - session player, really. Hopefully there'll be some gigs once the CD is finished.
PC: I know you did briefly toy with the idea of some gigs to promote the 'Andy Roberts - Just For The Record' CD.
You know me and gigs. One every 5 years whether I need it or not. I did one in Belfast just before Xmas, and also had an outing with Roger McGough in November. Both very unusual events, lately. Actually I'd love to do more solo shows, but I have a problem in how to book them. They hate me in Folk Clubs, 'cos I don't play folk, and I have never known what to do about that. Open to suggestions, that's me.
Updates to the above::
A tour with Dennis Locorriére has been confirmed for Autumn 06 with Andy, Clive, Griff and Martin Humphries.
'The patron saint of poetry', Roger McGough will tour later in the year to promote Roger's autobiography 'Said And Done', with Andy accompanying. Included will be a handful of Festival dates across the UK.
And don't forget::
If you don't yet have a copy of Andy Roberts - Just For The Record, or Plainsong 3, you can buy these, and others, direct from the artist here at ARM.