|The Alan Hull talk-in|
|from Sounds early'73 - discovered by Michael Clayton|
When the old Lindisfarne broke up, I understood you were going to concentrate on solo things, but here you are only a few months later with the new Lindisfarne, gigs behind you, doing a new album, and almost ready to go on the road again.
AH: Well, the solo album had been planned for a long time, about three years. It was understood within the record company and the group that sooner or later I was going to make a solo album. I had a lot of material, and I really wanted to get it out, do something outside the framework of the group. It just happened that as the group was changing and splitting up, I was about ready to do it so I did it then. I worked on Pipedream with Ray Jackson and Kenny Craddock, and we sort of put the new band together as we were doing it, then when we were finished we were just about ready to go with the group again.
You never felt you wanted to work completely on your own again?
AH: No, I donít think Iím good enough to perform as a solo artist. All I could do would be to go onstage and strum a guitar which just isnít good enough these days Ė not when youíve got people like David Bowie around, I much prefer to work as a band, as a unit...
rather than ever having Alan Hull and his musicians?
AH: Oh, I would never do that. Iíve always felt happier in the kind of situation we had in the old band and in this band where youíre working with people you know and have knocked around with for ages as equal creative forces. You get ideas bounced around Ė a lot of the time I come up with songs, but I just havenít got any idea whatsoever how to arrange them, but the arrangement comes from bouncing ideas around with the other people in the band, and something comes out of the song that I didnít even realise was there. Itís a very satisfactory working arrangement. I had thought about going alone, of course, and Iíd done it before, but when I was doing it before it was basically out of necessity Ė I was desperately trying to get a band together for years back in Newcastle, but it never seemed to come together because of lack of funds, lack of energy, lack of ideas... well, too many ideas but lack of knowledge of how to put them together, so it came to the point where I just had to go and play on my own if I wanted to play at all. But I wouldnít do it as a conscious step. Iíve never been particularly egotistical about my music Ė Iíd much rather share it, thatís half the joy I get out of it.
How did you set about doing Pipedream?
AH: It was definitely a group album, itís a musiciansí album put together by the songwriter. I approached it very carefully, prepared it much more than weíd done with previous albums. Mickey Sweeney, who produced it, used to come up to my house for about a month before we went in the studios, and just used to do demos, just with me doing as much as I could, then I took the demos down to the lads and weíd work on them from there Ė quite unusual for people like us, because we tend to be quite lazy when it comes down to it. It was a group album, but obviously on that one if there were any disputes about what should happen it was finally left up to me to decide. The new Lindisfarne album is completely a group effort, very much a democracy and everyone has a say. It isnít always the best way of working, but amongst the six of us weíve got a lot of experience Ė we must have made about thirty albums between us, so we should all know what weíre doing. We want to get the best material we can get from the 6 of us, done in the best possible way, and I think itís working. Thereíll be about 4 of my songs, 4 of Kenny Craddockís and 3 of Tommy Duffyís.
Youíve always kind of stayed with Newcastle musicians Ė is that a conscious decision, or is it just that theyíre the people you know and have played with before?
Itís just that you naturally feel happier working with people youíve known and worked with for a long time Ė you trust them. It was the middle Ď60s when we all started playing music around Newcastle, when the resident group and Newcastle Town Hall as The Animals (sic) and itís just naturally developed to what it is now. Thereís a lot of fine musicians and songwriters in Newcastle.
Itís taken quite a long time for them to emerge though.
AH: Itís atken a long time because Newcastleís a long way from London, itís further away from London than Liverpool is for instance, and the business people in London never really set out to make Tyneside a musical phenomenon Ė but it was. Thereís so many Geordie musicians all over the world now, brilliant musicians in different bands. It happened very quietly Ė weíre the chosen race, accidently (laughter).
Are you seriously patriotic about Newcastle?
AH: No I can never imagine myself being serious about patriotism for anything, let alone provincial patriotism. But it is nice, more tradition than patriotism Ė Newcastle United and Brown Ale, itís your roots, but itís nothing to write a novel about, just happiness really. I think patriotism and nationalism are a bit of a disease Ė cause a lot of trouble in the world... I think Iím an internationalist. as long as Newcastleís the capital and principal city.
Getting back to Lindisfarne, do you see your solo things conflicting with the groupís stuff Ė a kind of Rod Stewart and The Faces situation?
AH: I donít think itís got any chance of being like that at all. Rod Stewartís got an image, like a proper pop star image, and theyíve only got to look at me.... completely imageless. I quite like it that way, Iíd rather be a person than a pop star, I look upon all this as my work, and all that image thingís just a side effect, but thatís probably why weíre not massive, because we lack image. Weíre just lads playing music.
Though Lindisfarne and you have, if not an image, an identity.
AH: I think, I hope, that might have come about through our music, which is nice because thatís what weíre in it for.
You were talking earlier about going to America, that the old band hadnít really broken there but that this one might. Why is that important to you Ė surely itís an achievement, but only really in terms of numbers?
AH: I donít think so, because this form of music weíre playing had its origins in America, and if we can go there and satisfy people; itís got to prove something. Itís not entirely an egotistical thing, but there is ego involved obviously Ė but thatís all right because itís musical ego. I donít want to conquer the world. The numbers thing does help on stage Ė itís like football teams who play better at home because thereís 30,000 people cheering them on. You do play above yourselves. Iíd like to see Lindisfarne a big world band, but Iíd want them to be a respected world band Ė not just big for the sake of it.
And how would you feel if you just carried on doing what you felt was right and it wasnít successful commercially Ė how would that affect you?
AH: I would still go on doing it, it wouldnít affect us at all. Itís happened. it was like that for about 8 years before and we still kept on.
Yeah, but it would be different going back to that once youíd had that kind of success.
AH: I think it would be a shame, but I donít think it would be shattering, not to me anyway Ė I havenít got that obsession with success. Iím not obsessed by being on TV every week or in the papers, as long as I have a certain amount of respect for what I do from people who know about music. Itís a very sustaining feeling when people do come along and see you Ė that used to happen on a much smaller scale in Newcastle before we ever had any kind of national successand it used to carry you through. You thought it was OK if you could turn those people on. I never used to think about having a lot of success, I donít think any of us did, and sinc eitís happened we still ahvenít really thought about it. Thatís probably why weíre not up there with Slade and David Bowie, because weíre just not geared that way.
You get a lot of pressures from the business side of things, but I think up to now weíve survived Ė we havenít let them change us. Weíve changed the way we wanted to change, not because we were pressured into doing it. I didnít know about the performing side of things, but until I did Iíll be working in music somewhere, and thatís really always been so Ė thereís a couple of other things Iíve done but musicís been the main thing always. Music and bacon sandwiches, football and sex, anything beyond that is beyond me...
Does it depress you to see all the things in the charts that have so obviously been done just with commercial success in mind?
AH: Not any more Ė it used to when I was a little lad, when I was just out of school and a very idealistic musician. But now I know thatís just the kind of thing that has to be. Thereís a lot of people in this country and not all of them are going to like what I like Ė in fact very few of them do. Obviously thereís a place for that. Itís just a bit sad when you think thereís a lot of brilliant musicians around who just canít get a gig, and thereís all these weird people making this weird noise whoíre getting thousands and thousands of pounds, getting away with it, getting publicity with it, and getting a kind of superficial respect for it.
Ah well Ė heís had ten hit singles, you canít knock that...
AH: Yeah, Ďsix million people canít be wrong...í No I think itís the same not only in this field but in everything else. You get some kind of bowing down to mediocrity, I think a lot of people are just scared of the truth, theyíd much prefer not to have to think that much, so you get it on all kinds of things. Most popular TV things are extremely mediocre in artistic form, and newspapers like The News Of The World... is the most popular newspaper in the world, but if you look at it in purely artistic terms itís rubbish. People seem to worship mediocrity.
Do you think thatís because thatís what their taste really is, or because thatís what is fed to them by people who sell?
AH: Itís a funny kind of circle Ė itís that way because weíve chosen to have it that way, itís something inherent in human psychology that basically reality itself is so frightening that anything that points to it is very hard to accept, so people settle for things that are far easier to take starting off with religion. They settle for the easiest religion, which is Christianity where
somebody else is going to help you out of all your problems and all youíve got to do is believe with a blind faith that god exists and the devil exists, and then Jesusíll see you all right Ė youíll go to Heaven. Thatís a simple moronic way out to all your problems where other religions really point the way Ė Buddhism which says there is no god, and the only person whoís going to help yourself is yourself, which is a very hard thing to accept. But knowing this is true, the clever guys who are in business will feed things to people which are easy to accept, like Christianity and TV programmes and music... Obviously theyíre going to do that, because theyíre in it to make money, theyíre going to work on that concept. So you get the businessman who gives them mediocrity in its most mediocre form, the News of the World, or Gary Glitter, anything like that. Anything that doesnít upset the apple cart, people buy in their hordes.
How do you think it is that other things do succeed then?
AH: Because, thankfully, there is quite a large minority of people who arenít scared of the truth, who can accept that the only person whoís going to save them is themselves, who are very bored by the things that are pumped at them, and who canít stand Gary Glitter. Thatís how people like us survive Ė itís quite a large minority now, and I think we appeal to them.
But to have a hit single in this country, Iíd imagine youíd have to appeal to a lot of the people who also buy Gary Glitter.
AH: Which is very strange, because one of the hits we had was Lady Eleanor, which is ... well, you just have to look at the words.
Yeah, but do you think people take that in? Itís a pretty tune.
AH: Well possibly Ė maybe 90% of the people who bought it as a single bought it because it was a pretty tune, and 10% were probably the kids who come to gigs. But you get things like that happening all the time: Whiter Shade of Pale was right up there among the dross, Life on Mars did it. I like to think people are actually picking up on what those things are saying, tha those things are just the little bits of truth that save the world Ė therís an old Jewish proverb saying that in every generation there are 12 men who save the world from destruction, and it could be something like that. Itís a very romantic idea, but it might be. Or it could just be bacon sandwiches saving the world, or Monty Pythonís Flying Circus Ė if you wanted to analyse that, it had some really dangerous things to say to people about their lives, but people really picked up on it. It really seemed to touch on some kind of nerve with all kinds of people.