Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Tale Of Four Alans

It’s funny how the same name seems to crop up time and again in relation to my musical influences. Well, maybe not funny, but certainly makes for an interesting Blog thread, so here it is, a tale of four… Alans.

I remember hearing Violator for the first time sitting on the floor at our old bass player’s house. Steve Gent was always one for the very latest music, and in this ca se he had been the first of our gang to acquire Depeche Mode’s latest offering. I remember that first listening as much for the fact that the vinyl copy he had (the second copy as he’d already exchanged it twice) was scratched and used to skip infuriatingly. Vinyl was in demise at that time, and this was the catalyst for buying this album on CD, and presumably buying a CD player to go along with it. However, the music was quite extraordinary. Not since Nik Kershaw’s dramatic intro to Dancing Girls had I been so in love with a drum sound. Ever since World In Your Eyes hit my ears I have been in love with snare drums that go “pffft” instead of “therwap” or “crack”.

This led me to explore Depeche Mode’s back catalogue and discover the harder sound they’d developed since Vince Clarke has quit in 1981. That new sound was partly due to grittier songwriting of Martin Gore, but perhaps even more due to the craft and technique of Vince’s replacement – Alan Wilder. Although not immediately accepted as a core member of the band (he was asked to skip the recording of their next album – A Broken Frame) – he became an essential part of the mix for their most influential period. The albums that they produced – Construction Time Again, Black Celebration, Music For The Masses, Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion – all rate amongst my favourite long players. As well as keyboards, Wilder contributed Drums and endless time in the studio alongside Flood and other producers to turn a pop act into one of the greatest electro-rock bands in the world.

For my money they peaked with the combination of the film / live album “101” (Wilder’s choice of title apparently)  and the aforementioned Violator. Perhaps he thought so too, as in 1995 Wilder quit the band claiming that his influence and effort had never been properly recognised. I have to agree, most people have never heard of him, but they will know many of the tunes he helped to shape.

As an interesting footnote, Wilder sold off much of memorabilia and even some keyboards used with Depeche Mode in 2011 and the videos created for the auction make for absorbing watching.

The second Alan goes by the, not uncommon, name of Alan Whyte. He’s a guitarist and songwriter and was a local Burnt Oak boy (his mum knew the mum of a guy I was in a band with). But you probably haven’t heard of him. You almost certainly have heard of some of the songs he’s written and performed on. If I say that he co-wrote Glamorous Glue, Dagenham Dave, You’re The One For Me Fatty, Don’t Make Fun Of Daddy’s Voice then some of you might know who he worked with. However if I mention that he co-wrote Irish Blood, English Heart and First of the Gang to Die then I expect that many more of you will know these songs and who he played guitar for.

Yes, indeedy, alongside his conspirator – Boz Boorer – Alan Whyte wrote the music for many of Morrissey’s biggest tunes (not just him though, he has also written for Madonna, Chris Brown, Rihanna and The Black Eyed Peas).

Whatever you may think of Morrissey’s dodgy politics, you can’t fail to appreciate the sheer scale and excellent writing of many of his big hits. Well, funnily enough, he didn’t actually write them all himself. It was probably the song “You’re The One For Me Fatty” that first made he appreciate his work. Sure the lyric is provocative, but the tune is catchy, circular and well crafted. I was hooked.

I got hold of some live DVDs and was even more blown away. With a succession of beautiful Gibson and Gretsch semi-acoustic guitars Whyte and Boorer brought a sweaty, muscular rockabilly sound to Morrissey’s thoughtful, spiteful and left-field lyrics. It absolutely worked for me. Where I found The Smiths too introspective and clever, this was rock-and-roll at it’s best for me. Great tunes, big guitars and thought-provoking lyrics.

In the end though, like with the previous Alan, it all got a bit too much and a nervous breakdown led him to leave the band in 2007, perhaps Morrissey finally got to him, as he seems to be getting to us all these days.

Now I must confess that I’d never heard of my third Alan, when he was first mentioned to me by my good friend Tudor Davies. But it turned out that he needed a guitarist, and I was rather in need of a new band. And so it turned out that I got to meet the New-Prog-Legend that is Alan Reed, in his own house, playing his own songs (badly to start with). Although I could never hope to emulate the guitar lines of Niall Mathewson from his (most popular band) – Pallas (not the only band he's been in by the way) – it turned out that wasn’t what he was really after. Indeed Alan’s own guitar lines, especially in his excellent album – Honey On A Razor’s Edge – were not a million miles away from my own. Check out the riff on Razor and compare to my own on Snatch. You can, at least, see why Tudor thought that I might be suitable and, after appointing the amazing Mark Spencer as fall-back guitarist, I was in.

What an experience it has been (so far) – with the aforementioned Tudor on keyboards, Mark on electric guitar, Jennifer Ellen Clark on bass and the incredibly in demand Henry Rogers on bass we were off and running. Gigs in Stoke, Southampton, Glasgow and London followed, plus festival appearances at HRH Prog and Summer’s End in Wales and foreign trips to Pagney (France) and Boerderij Cultuurplatform (Netherlands). It’s been a total riot. Somewhere along the way we even managed to produce a live CD (Live From The Razor’s Edge) and there are rumours of a live DVD. Somehow I’ve even managed to lend my guitar tones to a solo record by Jennifer and crowd-type singing to a Twelfth Night release (coming soon). We now have a reputation for good music, energy and the sheer enjoyment of knowing that we are STILL IN A BAND!

Come and see us play next year.

Oh, so who is the final Alan in my series? Well my dad, of course - Alan Callow. The man who bought me my first guitar (birthday present I think, since my first keyboard was for passing my O Levels and I did terribly at A Level, and so generic a Strat copy that it had nothing at all written on the headstock) – that played one gig (see picture, the song is Wrapped Around Your Finger by The Police - easy number to start with, not) and then was promptly part exchanged for something better. He also tolerated our practices (as did our mum) and lent me his estate car to drive to endless gigs. Thanks dad, without your assistance and love not much of this would be possible.

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