"Captain Benwell"
by Steve Clarke
source & date unknown - discovered by Michael Clayton

Music from many bottles
Steve Clarke talks to them, drinks with them, and finds the alcoholic source of inspiration for…

Now IF this was somewhere glamorous like the Troubadour, L.A., or even Max’s Kansas City where stars drop by to prop up the bars (sorry, the bar props up the stars) there’d be no trouble setting the scene for this feature. But the Northumberland Arms just doesn’t have the same charisma, does it?

However, it’s not as drab as it sounds. The pub is on the Isle of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland – the place Lindisfarne the band took their name from. And it’s an illegal isle where just about anything goes, ‘cause hardly any lawmen ever visit the place.

There was a time when the police attempted to establish a local bobby on the island. An’ you know what? The locals let the poor guy’s pushbike tyres down, and he had to carry his bike back to the mainland. This is digressing, really, but it does kind of explain why Lindisfarne are up here recording demos for their next ellpee, which goes under the working title of “Happy Daze”. If you read a little more down this page you’ll find out why the name is quite appropriate. You know . . . the guys being drinkers and all. Right now Alan Hull has just ordered another triple gin and tonic and I’m sure that won’t be the last.

Why do you drink so much Alan?

What was that? Did I hear something about artistic stimulation? “It’s one of the finest forms of relaxation,” says Hull in his sometimes almost-indecipherable Geordie accent (to southern ears anyway). “I don’t go for all these people who smoke dope and smoke that LSD . . . terrible stuff . . . I just stick to the gin and tonics, like. There’s a song on the new album called ‘Gin And Tonics All Round’. The key line is like ‘I realised I had too much so I called out for more’. There’s another one – I thought I’d gone too far so I went far out some more’.”

Since the original group split at the beginning of 1973 after recording three albums (one something of a pop classic) and several hit singles, little seems to have been heard of the reformed group. In fact, Hull’s excellent solo album “Pipedream” received more publicity than 
the gigs the new Lindisfarne have undertaken. But although the group were no longer in the media’s eye through selling records , it didn’t mean they weren’t experiencing success. Hull and the rest of the group say the reception at gigs was as good as ever, though the press “turned sour on us”. They have, however, had the hindrance of various disputes with record companies and management, which, fortunately, are at last being settled. They have a new manager in Tony DeMetriades, an ex-lawyer who has looked after the affairs of CSN and Y and Joni Mitchell in his time. And there are strong rumours that the group will soon sign to Warners. 

If you’ve listened to the lyrics of Lindisfarne’s new single, “Taking Care Of Business”, you’ll have realised that Alan Hull isn’t too enamoured by the business side of the music biz. He comments: “That song was knocking a few people actually. The first verse is about . . . it’s a friendly kind of jibe. It’s a friendly kind of knock - same as ‘We Can Swing Together’ was a friendly kind of knock at cops. “I can never really feel bitter . . . I can’t remember the last time I really felt bitter. I think it was when I was put in the nick.”

This sounds interesting, Alan. I’m sure our readers won’t object to a slight digression while you tell them about the time you were nicked. 

Photo by Bill Elrick, taken years later during the Sleepless Nights tour

What was it for, Alan?

“Drunk and disorderly.” Might have guessed. “I was waiting for a bus on Tottenham Court Road and I was drunk, so I sat down. “Apparently you’re not allowed to sit down in Tottenham Court Road. And the paddy wagon came and just took us to West End Central where they put me in a great big room on my own and interrogated me for three hours. ‘Come on, you can really tell the truth now’. I said, ‘What? I just wanna go home.’ After three hours I was out. 

“Another time I was walking down to get the bus and I knew I was drunk. I was just going home, and suddenly two coppers were beside me and they said, ‘You’re drunk, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘Ah, go to hell.’ I was in a cell straight away. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with my face . . .”End of digression. You were saying about “Taking Care Of Business?
“Well, the first verse . . . it’s about a friend who’s a partner in the publishing company. The second verse is about ‘Fog On The Tyne’ which was a big hit; I thought I’d make a lot of money from it – but I didn’t get as much as I expected.”

Let’s talk about the last album, Alan – “Roll On Ruby”, the record that introduced the new line up to the public.

“It’s the first one as such and I’m very proud of it,” says Hull. Keyboard player Kenny Craddock (formerly with Ginger Baker’s Airforce, Mark Almond and Bell and Arc) agrees, only adding: If we’d had more time it would have been a 100 percent better.

“I think the songs are good enough, but I think the production could have been better – not better because of the producer, but better because we needed more time for mixing and over-dubs. The orchestrations were done in two days – that could have been improved on. But overall we’re quite proud of it.”

Back to Hull: “We made it under very difficult circumstances.” (He’s talking about the business aspect again). “But when we complete this new album we’ll make it under totally different circumstances. I think this is for me the best preparation and the happiest preparation I’ve ever been concerned with.”

On the album it wasn’t just Hull who wrote the songs. Craddock co-wrote several with Colin Gibson – bassist who worked on Hull’s solo album “Pipedream” and Tommy Duffy, the group’s bassist also writes. As Craddock says, Hull is the group’s first songwriter. But everyone else can write so why not let them do so?

“When we first came here,” explains Hull, “we put our songs together. Me and Tommy had made home demo tapes on Revoxes; Kenny had some demos he’d done at the Manor, and we put together the ones we wanted to do – the ones that everybody wanted to work on. “It came about that there was a strange kind of co-ordination between all the songs. It worked out that were all about getting drunk, or being in that state, or about being nervously drunk, or being screwed up inside because of outside influences – i.e. management – and having to cope in a pretty bitter, tough business. 

“There was also one other theme – about being held by some kind of force, some kind of inner force. “There’s ‘In My Head’, which is about bedevilment, and a couple of songs which are about ‘Here I am in London now and screwed up again’.”

Hull does have plans for another solo album, although in no way does he intend to pursue a solo career outside the context of Lindisfarne: “On the new solo album I want to do things Lindisfarne couldn’t possibly do – cause it’s a different style. There’s one song called ‘One More Bottle Of Wine’, and it’s like Frank Sinatra, with strings and things.”

The solo album’s going to be called ‘Captain Benwell’, and I shouldn’t be surprised if there are more songs with references to drink on it. As Hull says about Lindisfarne’s music, it’s like music from various bottles.