|interviewed by Charles Orr - June, 2001|
Ian McCallum is to all intents and purposes, an expatriate Scot. He was a protégé of the late James Alan Hull, who, by combining his own excellent songwriting talent with fresh personal interpretations of some of Alan’s songs, kept them alive, and thereby also the memory of that great man.
‘Social conscience’ is a phrase that is used a lot at the moment. A genuine one is found less commonly, but judging by the stories I have heard recently from others, Ian McCallum certainly has one; suffice to say that I have had first hand experience of his generosity. To those who haven’t as yet heard his music, get out and track it down; you won’t be disappointed. Check out Ian’s own website and discography at http://www.ianmccallum.com where you can download MP3 samples of his music. He is a full time member of Stiff Little Fingers, and their website can be found at http://www.slf.com
Where were you born, when did you move to Newcastle, and why?
I was actually born in Newcastle!! In Kenton, September 1965 but have always considered Campbeltown in Argyll my home. I’ve taken a fair few kickings from early childhood for laughing at English sporting failures (not qualifying for the world cup in 1974 springs to mind!!).
When and how did you first get in to music as a career?
I actually wanted to be a footballer, and when I realised that wasn’t going to happen had to find some other occupation which didn’t involve work!!!
I started writing and playing in the very early eighties, after touring Germany in 1982 I dropped a cassette into Alan’s (Hull) house and the rest, as they say…
A few people complain that some of your albums are hard to get a hold of - any suggestions?
It’s even more complicated now that I live in the States. As the original albums were only released from Berwick down to Leeds and were small pressing runs (1-5,000 I think) they are hard to get a hold of. I am in the process of trying to retrieve the master tapes and press some here in the U.S. to sell on the website. I do know that ‘Bigg Market’ and ‘Take me as I am’ are still available at J.G. Windows in the Central Arcade, Newcastle upon-Tyne.
The excellent "Faith, Hope & Charity" CDR that you compiled as a promo- might it be officially released?
Again, I’m talking to a few companies here in California, and have just started recording a new album which I intend to package with an extra CD consisting of solo acoustic recordings of older tunes (and a couple of Alan’s songs).
For a while at Lindisfarne gigs, you had a cassette on sale called "Unhinged"- some of your songs in ‘unplugged’ mode. According to one fan, it contains the definitive version of "No English Rose". Is this cassette still available? It's not listed in your website discography.
The reason for doing the acoustic CD along with a new album is basically because I never kept the master tapes of the ‘Unhinged’ session.
Do you have any forthcoming solo dates in the U.K.?
I’m trying to put a short tour together for the end of August possibly starting around the 20th to the 27th, and should have some idea of venues in the next couple of weeks.
Steve Daggett has recently released his new CD. Do you foresee any more songwriting collaborations with him?
I’m sure at some point we will do something together, but speaking for myself, as it’s not very often we see each other having a few beers and a natter is more the order of the day rather than working!!
You seem to be concentrating more on S.L.F. rather than solo work. How do you see your future in the long term?
I’ve been fully committed to Stiff Little Fingers since 1993/94 and don’t see that changing. It’s only the last two years that we’ve been really busy and it’s just now that I’ve been able to juggle the solo stuff and the band. The bottom line is that the four of us have so much fun when we’re working it doesn’t feel like work, and as long as that continues… so will we!! By the way, I don’t know whether you knew that Jake is a big fan of Alan’s.
In the track "The Fight Goes On" - 'it's always the good who die young' - a reference to Alan?
Yes it’s a reference to Alan… Margaret Thatcher being “It’s always the bastards that live on. Like the woman of iron, with a heart of stone”.
Had you worked with Alan before the "Run For Home" play? Eighteen of his songs were used plus two which were unreleased. Do you know if any recordings exist of that production?
I think we’d done a few folk clubs together before that (I can’t remember). I don’t think there’s any recordings of the play, but somewhere there is a recording of a great song of Alan’s called ‘Funny (how I love him)’ which Bren Laidler sang.
"We Can Make It" was a fantastic song, and you seemed to enjoy performing it at the 25 year concert with Lindisfarne at the City Hall. Have you ever been offered a place in the band, or would you ever have considered it? What are your current thoughts on the current Lindisfarne line up?
That song took about 10 pints of Boddingtons to write. We went back to Alan’s place, got the guitars out spent twenty minutes writing it, then we played it to Alan’s granddaughter Roxanne…She approved and we went back to the pub. Simple!!
I was actually a member of Lindisfarne for one gig. Simon couldn’t get back from Canada to do a festival in Copenhagen and I was him for the weekend !!! Complete with the famous Si Cowe harmonies!!!!
I really like ‘One Day’ and ‘Born at the right time’, it’s a completely different sound to Alan’s Lindisfarne but it was also a different sound when Jacka left, and when Rod stopped playing bass. I like the sound; it’s evolved into something new… Everything changes!!!!
Your songwriting is of a really high standard, combined with a social conscience. How much has Alan influenced your work?
Thanks… Alan has been the one major influence. It’s difficult to know just how much of an influence someone has been on you until they’re not there and you have to get on with things without their advice. A huge influence musically, politically and socially.
When will your next solo album be out, and will it include any more Alan Hull cover versions? Would there be any possibility of you recording any of his (many) unreleased songs?
As I said earlier I’m recording at the minute but will take a lot more time over the songs and, yes I will certainly be doing at least one of Alan’s songs and possibly a couple of things we worked on in the past that never came to anything at the time.
Rumour had it that you may approach some celebs with a view to contributing to an A.H. tribute album. Is this true? Garry Caverhill mentioned a similar idea a couple of years ago, but nothing seems to have come of it.
It’s very hard to put something like that together. I started to try and contact certain people (Paddy McAloon - Prefab Sprout, Tom Robinson, Brian Johnson-AC/DC). The problem is that to do it justice it would have to be on a major label to get the kind of distribution an album like that deserves. So it’s still at the ‘drawing board’ stage.
Any amusing or interesting stories about Alan you can recall?
None that are printable!!!!! We were once told to leave a bar in Stockton as the manager said he didn’t serve coach parties!! ( there was only the two of us ).
Do you have a favourite Alan Hull song?
I have lots, but probably ‘Scarecrow song’ is the one which sentimentally means most to me.
On your website you urge people not to buy a particular newspaper, and its' Sunday sister - is there a story behind this?
Basically the Daily Record are completely anti-Glasgow Rangers Football Club. I might be better off just leaving it at that!!!!!!!
Ian, many thanks for keeping the beacon burning, and also taking the time out for this interview. We will look forward to the release of your new album, due out later in the year.
Thanks very much and All the Best.
P.S. Many thanks to Judith Watson who supplied the photo of Ian & Alan
P.P.S. Page design supplied by Charles Orr [RG]