Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Smiley "Friends On Sunshine Corner" Preview / Interview

"Smiley's Friends On Sunshine Corner" is the third in your 'Friends' series and brings you closer to home, who is featured this time around?

I didn't even think about another album til the middle of this year. I had written a couple of new songs, then I wrote a couple more and then suddenly had a spurt and wrote about 4 in a week! I worked with Graham Turner again like last time, the old Elton John / Bernie Taupin connection! It was really easy and it was then I considered a new record. We started honing the songs, especially lyrically, he is so good and then I demoed everything myself. When the demos were in place I started thinking about bringing people in.

I wasn't going to use lots of musicians this time but hey ho it started growing! Actually a couple of top players asked to be on the album, you can't say no can you! The big question was who sings what, as I said I demoed them and then decided who would sound best. John James Newman is my fave male singer so he did 4, Kerry did 3, Dorie Jackson did 1 and I did the rest. Musicians were mainly the same as last time with a couple of extra players - David D'Andrade, what a guitarist! (He loved the Gathering by the way)...Gary Nuttall (Robbies' guitarist), Dale Davis (Amy Winehouse), Matt Round (ELO), Kai Stephens (Hard Fi) amongst others. We added a fiddle, some real brass, I even nicked the Acquire choir from Mike for 2 tracks just to add some different flavour to it. I used some key people in the recording process this time. Dave White, who was The Alarm soundman, he mixed the album and Alan Thompson, the BBC Radio Wales DJ, he was my rock! What a great man he is, so positive, really knows his music....loves the album!

Is there a general musical style to this release or will it continue the eclectic nature of your previous albums?

Eclectic as ever! The day there is a musical theme on these records is the day I stop! ha ha

Will you be trying to seek wider distribution for the album or will you be continuing with your cottage industry, truly independent approach?

I would love everyone on the planet to hear it but that doesn't always work....does it Bono!!! It will be available from , iTunes etc plus the wonderful merch stand at The Gathering! I might sit on there on the Saturday afternoon and say hi to everyone - if it's ok with Jules!

With "Friends In Far Out Places" you seemed to build some genuine momentum, videos for some of the tracks, commercially available through iTunes etc - do you feel that with each release you are reaching a wider audience?

It does feel like that. Social media is good for that but it's a fine line between letting everyone know it's available and getting on peoples tits! I hope I am just on the right side of the line.

"Far Out Places" was one hell of a strong album, did it achieve what you hoped it would?

I was genuinely touched so many people liked it. People who I wouldn't have thought, they all seemed to like it (or parts of it). Like a big tin of Quality Street - lets face it no one likes the purple one do they so you can't please everyone! Plenty of toffees on that album for everyone to chew on though.

The From The Alarm set at The Gathering was amazing and I think surprised a lot of fans who maybe hadn't heard any of the solo work from you, Craig and James. What reaction and feedback did you take from it?

That was a really special evening. The fact that the 3 of us were doing it, learning each others tunes, really putting the work in. I was genuinely touched when Adams walked into rehearsals and had learnt my songs note for note....and liked them! I felt very privileged and thought it was a really nice gesture by Mike to let us do it.

I was talking to a certain Geordie mutual friend the other night and I said that you guys knew you had nailed that gig and had fun because you knew it was absolutely on point. Is that an accurate description?

Yes and you know what, it made The Alarm set so much better. We were all so relieved we had pulled it off, not let the other guys down, played those songs live for the first time, James singing live etc. The relief was huge! What better way to celebrate than to go out there again behind the best front man in the world playing those incredible Alarm songs to those incredible fans....Mega night all round!

How was it having Kerry join you on stage?  You've done gigs before but I'm guessing this was probably the biggest to date.

Do you know what? It was her idea to do it like we did. We were walking the dog and I said "Oh Mike wants me to do a couple of songs from my album" she was like "Yeah, brilliant, lets do this and this, get David D'Andrade. Put Jan on the drums, a proper show - bless her, she was right....for once!

How did you decide the running order between you, was it based on the material and the flow of the whole From The Alarm set or did you all resort to rock, paper, scissors? ;)

That was really funny, I was saying James should go first - he was saying he wanted to go last, Craig didn't care! Then someone suggested we finished with a song we could all play together. We were going to do a cover then someone suggested "End Of The World". Everyone wanted to do it so it ended up like We Are The World! ha ha

After how well The Gathering went did you consider the possibility of more live dates or was that just not commercially viable?

I would but it's not the easiest or the cheapest thing to do. You never know but I've got no plans to. James is doing a show in December which is brilliant, then again he's minted so he can! ha ha

Is it something that may happen even if it's just the odd show with the release of "Sunshine Corner"?


For "Far Out Places" you managed to have all of The Alarm appear with the exception of Craig, was there anyone who you wanted to play on "Sunshine Corner" who slipped through your fingers?

Spandau Steve Norman. Only cos I wanted a sax solo and I love him! Nearly happened but he's a busy boy these days. Mark Taylor is on a track, the players kind of fell into place as we went along, there is some great playing on this record. I am truly humbled that they all did it.

Probably the biggest burning question has to be when will the album be available and where from?

February 1st. You can pre-order it now from or buy one at The Gathering!

For a while now you've been promoting the album you have been working on with Graham Turner for Dave Welsh, what can you tell us about it?

Well Graham knew Dave who heard our last album ad wanted to come into my studio and record. So he turns up, he's about 60 Dave, and he sits down with a guitar and says he has a few tunes - 2 hours later he had played me 25 songs all of which have great hooks and melodies and he sounds like Johnny Cash! So I rewrote the tracks with him and Graham did the words it's a brilliant album, you can get it on iTunes "The Dave Welsh Album" - thoroughly recommend it!

It's been a fairly quiet year for The Alarm with Mike very busy with the Strength acoustic dates, then came his diagnosis and then Cardiff. James called it the best gig of his life, what are your thoughts on what for many was a special night?

Ah man I absolutely loved it! We spent a week in Cardiff just me, Mike, James and Mark Warden rehearsing etc, hanging out. Then the day of the show was the only time we rehearsed with the orchestra and the choir, seat of your pants stuff! I agree with James, it was one of my favourite gigs ever. Just shows you how good those songs are when you hear them played like that...Amazing!

I'm not going to ask you about Mikes diagnosis, he's your friend and has the right to his privacy or to choose what he shares with the fans, but I also know that it is an elephant in the room and may impact your answers to the next few questions.

He's doing great.

There have been a few bits of information revealed regarding the upcoming Alarm album but what can you tell us about the current plans and how things are going?

I can't go into detail purely cos he changes his mind every other day but there are some brilliant things coming round the corner for Alarm fans. I'm excited as anyone, trust me you won't be disappointed!

Has there been talk of whether the album will be released in time for the upcoming Stranglers Black & White tour?

As I say major things are planned, can't say more than that!

There has also been the usual fan speculation about whether there will be a full headline tour to promote it in addition to the Stranglers dates, how is this looking as there will also be some more Strength shows from the look of it?

He's got plans coming out of every orifice! Trust me he has things up his sleeve.

January of course sees us back in Llandudno for The Gathering, on the off chance that you can tell us any inside info without being killed by Jules, what can you tell us about plans and preparations for it?

Well, I've got the setlist already, better get learning cos I don't know half of them! As I said if people were at all interested I would love to meet everyone at the merch desk for a chat, armed with a pile of albums! If people are interested I'll square it with Head Office!

It's been another busy year for Archive with "Restriction" coming much quicker after "Axiom" than many had expected, does this mean we might have a longer wait for the next album?

Nope, the new one is nearly finished! They have some amazing things planned so that's gonna be very exciting. Next Autumn I believe it all kicks off.

How does it feel for Archive to finally have a bigger awareness in the UK?

To me they are one of the best bands on the planet, nobody like them! I think it may be one song breaks them here and opens Pandoras Box! Now there's a back catalogue!

Finally as it's nearly the end of the year could you tell us some of your favourite albums this year?

Eagles Of Death Metal, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Queens Of The Stone Age, Dave Wesh, Birdpen, Parade, Averydeephole, Royal Blood!

Smiley, as ever, thank you! Have a great Xmas!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Steve Grantley Interview

Much has been said about the terror attacks on the French capital earlier this month and normally a music blog wouldn't be commenting on them but this time I will be for a couple of reasons. Firstly a music venue was targeted, not a high profile stadium gig but a normal concert venue, secondly mere days after the attack one band decided to buck the trend of cancellations and actively made their scheduled gig in Paris go ahead - that band was Stiff Little Fingers and on the drum stool as always was Steve Grantley. While the SLF tour continues Steve found time to answer a few questions about what it was like to play that Paris show.

Where were you when you heard the news of the attacks in Paris?

We were in Dublin. We had just come off stage and our tour manager Tony informed us of the tragedy.

Did it immediately sink in that you were due to play there in a matter of days?

Yes. We all looked at each other with immediate realisation - "we are due in Paris in 2 days!" It was a sobering moment!

What were the discussions within the band as to whether or not to go ahead with the show?

We all agreed that we must go and play - however we knew we would have to have the support of the promoter and the permission of the authorities. At the time large gatherings were forbidden by the government and there was also a period of mourning in place so it was a bit up in the air but it was lifted by the Tuesday when we were due to play.

Did it ever occur to you to cancel?

No, never!

Were the venue and promoter eager for you to go ahead or did they need persuading that it was a good thing to proceed with?

They wanted us to go ahead. We all collectively felt that we should play.

The reviews coming out of the show say the reaction from the audience was amazing with chants at the beginning of the set, how would you describe the experience?

Yes, it was heart warming and elating. The Paris audience were exuberant and unnecessarily grateful to us for playing. You see, we WANTED to perform. Their warmth was palpable and the atmosphere was electric.

Jake made little comment of the attack itself until near the end of the set, was this an intentional decision, almost a return to normalcy for the audience?

Absolutely, we didn't want to remind them of the atrocity: we wanted to make it business as usual.
U2's Adam Clayton in Belfast this week (pic Nick Thom)

Did you make any changes to the set?

No we didn't. We wore black arm bands as a mark of respect to the people who lost their lives but other than that we went out and played a SLF show.

What do you think of U2 and Foo Fighters cancelling their dates?

U2 had no choice: there was a ban on concerts the night they were due to play. In terms of security, it's a lot easier to guarantee a level of safety for 500 people in a club rather than thousands in an arena.

U2 were due to play the night after the attack and made the decision to visit the street memorials, it's unlikely the authorities would have allowed the show to go ahead. Was there any discussions with the police or politicians about whether or not you should go ahead with the gig?

No discussions, the concert and large gathering ban was over as was the national mourning period so it was up to us and the promoter. U2 had no choice, they weren't allowed to play!

Have you had any messages of support from other bands?

We've had an amazing reaction from all over the world. It's been a huge surprise. To us we just did what we do! We played a gig!

You return to France early next month when you play in Rouen, do you think that the Paris show will influence it?

I've no idea - who knows? For us it's business as usual. We play music, that's what we do. If we stopped, changed our routine or adapted to accommodate fear - the terrorists have won! And we can't have that!