The Alan Hull talk-in
author unknown
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 don’t think I’m good enough to perform as a solo artist. All I could do would be to go onstage and strum a guitar which just isn’t good enough these days – not when you’ve 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. I’ve always felt happier in the kind of situation we had in the old band and in this band where you’re working with people you know and have knocked around with for ages as equal creative forces. You get ideas bounced around – a lot of the time I come up with songs, but I just haven’t 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 didn’t even realise was there. It’s a very satisfactory working arrangement. I had thought about going alone, of course, and I’d done it before, but when I was doing it before it was basically out of necessity – 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 wouldn’t do it as a conscious step. I’ve never been particularly egotistical about my music – I’d much rather share it, that’s half the joy I get out of it.

How did you set about doing Pipedream?

AH: It was definitely a group album, it’s a musicians’ album put together by the songwriter. I approached it very carefully, prepared it much more than we’d 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 we’d work on them from there – 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 isn’t always the best way of working, but amongst the six of us we’ve got a lot of experience – we must have made about thirty albums between us, so we should all know what we’re 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 it’s working. There’ll be about 4 of my songs, 4 of Kenny Craddock’s and 3 of Tommy Duffy’s.

You’ve always kind of stayed with Newcastle musicians – is that a conscious decision, or is it just that they’re the people you know and have played with before?

It’s just that you naturally feel happier working with people you’ve known and worked with for a long time – you trust them. It was the middle ‘60s when we all started playing music around Newcastle, when the resident group and Newcastle Town Hall as The Animals (sic) and it’s just naturally developed to what it is now. There’s a lot of fine musicians and songwriters in Newcastle.

It’s taken quite a long time for them to emerge though.

AH: It’s atken a long time because Newcastle’s a long way from London, it’s 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 – but it was. There’s so many Geordie musicians all over the world now, brilliant musicians in different bands. It happened very quietly – we’re 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 – Newcastle United and Brown Ale, it’s your roots, but it’s nothing to write a novel about, just happiness really. I think patriotism and nationalism are a bit of a disease – cause a lot of trouble in the world... I think I’m an internationalist. as long as Newcastle’s the capital and principal city.

Getting back to Lindisfarne, do you see your solo things conflicting with the group’s stuff – a kind of Rod Stewart and The Faces situation?

AH: I don’t think it’s got any chance of being like that at all. Rod Stewart’s got an image, like a proper pop star image, and they’ve only got to look at me.... completely imageless. I quite like it that way, I’d rather be a person than a pop star, I look upon all this as my work, and all that image thing’s just a side effect, but that’s probably why we’re not massive, because we lack image. We’re 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 that’s what we’re in it for.

You were talking earlier about going to America, that the old band hadn’t really broken there but that this one might. Why is that important to you – surely it’s an achievement, but only really in terms of numbers?

AH: I don’t think so, because this form of music we’re playing had its origins in America, and if we can go there and satisfy people; it’s got to prove something. It’s not entirely an egotistical thing, but there is ego involved obviously – but that’s all right because it’s musical ego. I don’t want to conquer the world. The numbers thing does help on stage – it’s like football teams who play better at home because there’s 30,000 people cheering them on. You do play above yourselves. I’d like to see Lindisfarne a big world band, but I’d want them to be a respected world band – 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 wasn’t successful commercially – how would that affect you?

AH: I would still go on doing it, it wouldn’t affect us at all. It’s 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 you’d had that kind of success.

AH: I think it would be a shame, but I don’t think it would be shattering, not to me anyway – I haven’t got that obsession with success. I’m 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. It’s a very sustaining feeling when people do come along and see you – 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 don’t think any of us did, and sinc eit’s happened we still ahven’t really thought about it. That’s probably why we’re not up there with Slade and David Bowie, because we’re just not geared that way.
You get a lot of pressures from the business side of things, but I think up to now we’ve survived – we haven’t let them change us. We’ve changed the way we wanted to change, not because we were pressured into doing it. I didn’t know about the performing side of things, but until I did I’ll be working in music somewhere, and that’s really always been so – there’s a couple of other things I’ve done but music’s 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 – 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 that’s just the kind of thing that has to be. There’s a lot of people in this country and not all of them are going to like what I like – in fact very few of them do. Obviously there’s a place for that. It’s just a bit sad when you think there’s a lot of brilliant musicians around who just can’t get a gig, and there’s all these weird people making this weird noise who’re 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 – he’s had ten hit singles, you can’t knock that...

AH: Yeah, ‘six million people can’t be wrong...’ No I think it’s 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, they’d 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 it’s rubbish. People seem to worship mediocrity.

Do you think that’s because that’s what their taste really is, or because that’s what is fed to them by people who sell?

AH: It’s a funny kind of circle – it’s that way because we’ve chosen to have it that way, it’s 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 you’ve got to do is believe with a blind faith that god exists and the devil exists, and then Jesus’ll see you all right – you’ll go to Heaven. That’s a simple moronic way out to all your problems where other religions really point the way – Buddhism which says there is no god, and the only person who’s 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 they’re going to do that, because they’re in it to make money, they’re 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 doesn’t 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 aren’t scared of the truth, who can accept that the only person who’s going to save them is themselves, who are very bored by the things that are pumped at them, and who can’t stand Gary Glitter. That’s how people like us survive – it’s quite a large minority now, and I think we appeal to them.

But to have a hit single in this country, I’d imagine you’d 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? It’s a pretty tune.

AH: Well possibly – 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 – ther’s 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. It’s a very romantic idea, but it might be. Or it could just be bacon sandwiches saving the world, or Monty Python’s Flying Circus – 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.