Thursday, 24 January 2019

"Smiley's Friends In The Sixth Dimension"

By now I'm guessing you all know the score but for those not familiar here's the set up..... Every year Smiley writes a load of top quality tunes, taps up his mates to play on the album and then releases it with very little fanfare! Oh, did I mention that they are usually blinding too?

So here we are at album number six hence the albums title and it's a monster! The energy jumps out from the get go and the quirky nature of Smiley's humour is immediately in evidence with the very first line of album opener "Be Careful What You Wish For" being "You got me walking in the wrong direction, you saw me shopping in the freezer section, I even voted in the wrong election now!" One thing that is apparent from the get go is the guitar is very much king on this album, amazing riffs and stunning solos permeate throughout the 12 tracks that make up "....Friends In The Sixth Sense".

As always different styles weave in and out or bounce along in the case of some of the more indie flavoured tracks. "Wheels" could even be a contender for a lost John Lennon song, and as for those sublime harmonies in "Lantern Light" what more needs to be said!

Whether this is the first Smiley album you've heard or the sixth you will not be disappointed, this is an album that deserves to be heard not to mention toured (we can but hope). With every release going from strength to strength this might just be the best "Friends" album to date!

Pick up your copy on CD or download direct from Smiley - just click HERE!

Friday, 27 April 2018

Beki Hemingway - "Whins and Weather" Review

Not all of you may be familiar with Beki Hemingway or her husband and musical cohort Randy Kerkman, some of you may even be questioning why I'm reviewing their new album "Whins and Weather" on what is essentially an Alarm fan page but I assure you this definitely belongs here! Firstly lets get the Alarm connection dealt with and out of the way....Steve "Smiley" Barnard plays drums on half of the albums ten tracks.....secondly Beki & Randy are both big Alarm fans and supporters and are known to many fellow fans and Gathering attendees through performing at various taverns in Llandudno during the Gathering Weekend.  Thirdly, for those that need more convincing, Beki & Randy are lovely people and if this review can help introduce their music to new people then why the devil not!

 Album opener "Two More Hills" is a wonderful alt-Country number dripping with a lovely pedal steel guitar , in fact there are hints of country, folk , rock and even gospel on the album. Some tracks would fit very well on an Aimee Mann album especially the upbeat "Thank You For The Rain" while "Anyone But You" could easily work as a Sheryl Crow track but Beki has her own style and identity which she proves on the ballads. "Not Excused" is a simple arrangement of voice. piano and dobro which lets you focus on Beki's voice as does "Because" which just features an acoustic guitar accompaniment. One major coup is the inclusion of Duke Special as a special guest lending his easily identifiable harmonies to You Sing This Song" as well as piano and harmonies to the album closer.  

I'd like to take some time to single out that track for special praise. I must admit when scanning the cover I was surprised and honestly very wary about a track called "Tourist"as it had the legend Auschwitz/Birkenau 2016 below the title. I was slightly shocked that anyone could write a song about the location where the worst crimes against humanity in history happened but as the track started it's emotion and feelings made sure that my fears of any disrespect were quickly dispelled. The song is simply beautiful, heartfelt, moving and needs to be heard. It literally moved me to tears and is an amazing piece of songwriting, closing the album in a mournful and haunting way with a subtle violin line weaving amongst the harmonies of Beki & Duke.

"Whins and Weather" can be found on both Amazon & iTunes for ease but if you want to support new music you'd do well by buying from CDBaby by clicking HERE!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Steve Grantley Talks "FUNKPUNK" (Interview)

The RT-Zed duo of  Steves Grantley & Jonesy return with their new album the aptly named "FUNKPUNK"  I recently caught up with Mr. Grantley after his return from the SLF Australian tour to find out more

"Zed Hed" was a fantastic album, did its sales and reception meet your expectations?

The reviews were exceptional and the response from people was absolutely tremendous. The reviews were so good I thought my Mum had written them! (laughs) It's still selling now so I would say Zed Hed exceeded my personal ambition for the record. Although I would prefer world domination!!!!!!!!!!

Was there a temptation to produce a sequel that was in a similar vein or did you always know that you wanted to travel a different path with the new album?

Yes. I suppose there was an option to recreate Zed Hed but I went with my gut instinct, which is what I've done with all the records. I wrote a bunch of songs and FUNKPUNK is what came out. I just followed what felt good, I stayed out of my own way and let it flow.

How quickly did the sound take shape, was it a case of the song writing influencing the sound or the sound influencing the writing?

The sound took shape quickly, the dub bass, the solid beats, less straight-ahead hackneyed musical tricks, the aggressive attitude all came naturally. The songs were written before I went in to record but once I was in the studio the sound influenced the writing and I started creating new tracks on the spot. So it was a bit of both; the songs influenced the sound and then that blueprint influenced some new songs.

What artists were you listening to while writing "FUNKPUNK", did you look for inspiration?

Like all of us I have eclectic tastes, so down through the years I've always liked Parliament and Funkadelic, James Brown, Prince, Rick James as well as rock music like The Who, Led Zep and punk; Pistols and The Ruts plus reggae - Sly and Robbie, Marley, Steel Pulse and FUNKPUNK just grew out of those influences. It's subliminal not deliberate and definitely not what someone would expect from a punk rock tub thumper. The legendary session drummer Jeff Porcaro was a mentor, he gave me a lot of great advice and he was all about "the groove" so there's grooves on the album. My publisher is a punk rocker and he said he didn't own any records that sounded like FUNKPUNK and I said "yes you do", The Clash's "Magnificent 7", "This Is Radio Clash" maybe even "Rock The Casbah" plus Talking Heads, Ian Dury and the Blockheads. He felt it was a very odd combination of styles; funk music and punk rock but to me it was perfectly normal. Trouble Funk used to have punk rock bands support them all the time. Also why would I want to try and recreate 1977 or something RT-Zed had already done? What's the fucking point of that? I just went my own way and thought fuck it; I have to do what I feel comfortable with.

You got Jon Astley to master the album, he has one hell of a CV so that must have been a massive coup for you. How did he get to be involved?

Yes, he's a legend among legends. I didn't know him at all; he heard the music through the engineer on the album Jamie Masters. Jon costs a fortune and I could never have afforded his usual fee but he loved the album and offered his services because he was a fan. I was highly honoured and very encouraged by the fact that he agreed to master the record. He's mastered The Who, Zeppelin, Townshend solo stuff, Bad Company, ABBA - all sorts of artists but all of them million sellers so for him to master FUNKPUNK was fucking brilliant.

You and Jonesy handle all the instrumentation on the album, did you consider inviting guests?

No - I was tired of explaining to bass players to "keep it simple" and leave room for the grooves to breathe. In the end I played the bass on the whole record, largely due to necessity. I used all the reggae dub tricks; flat-wound strings, foam dampening at the bridge, to wound off, bottom wound up, play with your thumb and keep it groovy with the drummer - like a proper rhythm section. Jonesy played some great lead stuff and bought some real flair to the whole proceedings. His sd is muscular and aggressive without being cliched "Rock geetar"! He wasn't always around so I covered all the funk guitar parts and synths - I just got on with it. We may use guests next time - we know enough fucking people; we'll see. I like doing everything ourselves as it means we don't have to explain and waste valuable time negotiating with people.

How easy was it to fit in writing, recording, mixing and generally everything that made the album happen in a time of increased activity and a resurgence in popularity in Stiff Little Fingers?

It was easy really. Even though Stiff Little Fingers have been incredibly busy I was still able to use time off to work on FUNKPUNK - I play all the time, I don't see it as work - It's pleasure so when I had some SLF downtime, I was in the studio.

"No Conspiracy" featured on the live album "Crunch" albeit in a more raw form and devoid of the wonderful funk guitar of the new version, was this the only song to be reworked for the "FUNKPUNK"sessions?

Yes, it's the only song that was reworked because it was never really finalised. We recorded it on the live album Crunch because we were a song short and the rest of the band said lets do "No Conspiracy". I was never that pleased with it so this was the perfect opportunity to record No Con the way I heard it.

When did you decide to make the release a Pledge campaign?

Siren who manage SLF suggested it and it was good advice. It's going extremely well.

Have you been surprised at how quickly you achieved your Pledge target?

Yes, my fear was we wouldn't reach 100% and look like fucking idiots but we got there in 9 days. It was a relief and very exciting!

Have you got "stretch" goals in mind now you are fully funded?

We aren't fully funded - we just chose an amount that we felt we could reach.

Will there be any possibility of live dates and if so is this likely to be another one off or might we see a short tour?

Yes, we'd like to do gigs but there will be no tour unless we can get a good support slot.

Have you considered whether the songs from "Zed Hed" would be played "straight" or would you be tempted to give them a funk vibe live?

No, the songs are the songs - we'll play them the way they are.

We spoke before about the possibility of a dub version of "FUNKPUNK" or maybe a couple of dub mixes, is this something you've given any more thought to?

I'd love to but I'm not sure there's enough of a market to make it worthwhile.

For those that follow you on social media some of the lyrical themes won't be that much of a surprise (conspiracies,Police brutality/misuse of power, religion, animal rights/veganism) is this a case of writing about what interests you or do you hope that listeners will question the status quo in true punk fashion?

Well, firstly it's about self expression. I can't see the point in writing about anything else. I abhor animal cruelty of any kind, I'm anti-religion, I feel our governments regularly lie to us, so I distrust them enormously. I think the Police are often out of control and corruption and racism is rife; look at the Stephen Lawrence case plus all the shit that's going on in the U.S. Police look like Militia under the pretence of protection when it feels like mass control. I'm anti-Royal and the Civil List that accompanies them; I'm pro free speech! I'm not trying to teach or preach but if the songs touch people in some way then great but the lyrics are my opinions - make of them what you will.

One of the highest tier Pledge rewards is a snare drum that you used in both The Alarm & SLF....what can you tell us about its history?

It's a rare Dennis Chambers (Parliament/Funkadelic) signature snare that I've used on Alarm records and shows plus SLF records and a track on the new RT-Zed album. I don't use it anymore and thought it would be something someone would like to own.

This is a great opportunity for a fan to own such a unique item, was it a hard decision to let it go?

Yeah it was a hard decision but if it finds a new home, that'll be fantastic.

How do you ensure "FUNKPUNK" reaches as wide an audience as possible?

No idea! The music industry is fucked so I'm as lost and confused as everyone else.

What are your expectations for the album?

I have no expectations - I just want people to use the music. Enjoy it and have fun with it - that's my desire. I stopped having expectations years ago.

Steve Grantley, thank you very much! 

"FUNKPUNK" is available exclusively through Pledgemusic which you can find by clicking HERE!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

RT-Zed "FUNKPUNK" Reviewed

Steve Grantley returns with a new RT-Zed studio album but this is probably not the album most were expecting! "FUNKPUNK" does exactly what the name suggests, Steve's snarling vocals, fat bass lines and punky tunes all dripping with jangly funk guitar that wouldn't be out of place on a Prince album! Imagine if The Ruts had been influenced by funk instead of reggae and you'll be on the right track!

So what about the album itself? Well if you are a keen RT-Zed fan you'll recognise "No Conspiracy" from the live "Crunch" album but here it seems to have found it's true calling, it's more effortless and now has a different groove that is more fitting to this release. Clocking in at just under 37 minutes, in true punk fashion, this isn't a long album by any stretch but not a minute is wasted. After the first few plays I hit the repeat button every time and each time I found more reasons to love "FUNKPUNK" and every time it still sounded fresh.

Lyrically there are the no holds barred topics that you'd expect from Mr. Grantley, the misuse of power, the challenges of organised religion, the treatment of animals, consumerism etc....with a massive bass line throughout  Guilty" tackles the brutality of some members of various law enforcement agencies while "Got No Style" even manages to squeeze in a nod to the legendary Funkadelic! Album closer "Clone" wouldn't sound out of place in an episode of Black Mirror especially with it's spoken coda of "the lifestyle you have ordered is currently unavailable, goodbye" and it would be fantastic to see it get that sort of exposure!

With the weather beginning to get warmer things are about to get a whole lot hotter and this will be the soundtrack to your summer!

"FUNKPUNK" took the Pledge route so you won't find it in the shops or the usual download sites but don't worry you can get your hands on it in just a few clicks by visiting the Pledge store HERE!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

"A Divide Of Two Halves - Racing the Tour Divide for Love Hope Strength Foundation" by Lydia Franklin

Lydia Franklin releases her third fundraising book for LHS this week full of nods to Mike Peters, The Alarm and LHS as well as having a foreword from a certain Mr. James Stevenson, as someone who had read her previous books covering her cycling ventures I was eager to read the third.....I wasn't disappointed!

“If it all went to plan it wouldn’t be an adventure. If it was easy it wouldn’t be an adventure. Woo hoo, this is an adventure!”

For those of you that don’t know Lydia there’s probably a couple of things you should know. She’s  very driven and regularly undertakes challenges that most would consider insane while all the time fundraising and promoting the music centric cancer charity Love Hope Strength Foundation. The other thing you need to know is that she doesn’t do failure! So having previously cycled the fabled Route 66 & the length of New Zealand (both trips documented in the books “Putting the metal to the pedal” & “Racing the Phoenix” respectively) her latest adventure was to take on the Tour Divide, a solo time challenge, starting in Canada then crossing the border into America.

Now I won’t get into the whole route and mechanics of the tour divide as to be honest it confused me a bit but essentially, big climbs, very hard roads and you’d need to be insane to really contemplate doing it in normal situations let alone on a pretty tight schedule as you have limited time booked as holiday before you have to return to the UK back to the day job! It would have been a massive feat even if everything had gone to plan and needless to say it didn’t! So *spoiler alert* Lydia is forced to abandon the challenge as she would run out of time …. This to me is a more interesting premise as it allowed some freedom to explore places she wouldn’t have been able to see whilst also rationalising the decision to end her race early. As someone once sung “Failure isn’t about falling down, failure is staying down” and that’s something that Lydia was most definitely not going to do!

Throughout her whole trip Lydia wrote blogs each day in order for those at home to be able to follow her progress, make sure she hadn’t been eaten by bears (they feature in the story and provide many a moment that made me smile!) and also to help promote her fundraising goal. These blogs for a large part of the book, are very easy to read and because they were written in the moment you really do feel what she was going through on any given day, her state of mind, levels of exhaustion and any mechanical challenges from the bike. Nothing has been clouded by memory or blurred in any way so it is the closest chance of being in the moment you will get. Each chapter has an update at the end where Lydia reviews that day and her memories of it, sometimes expanding of something or just reflecting on the trials she faced.

One thing that struck me was the random kindness of strangers that litter the book, from those that give help, advice, mental support, encouragement, water, even a place to stay without wanting anything in return. It’s all too easy to be cynical in this day and age and we forget there are many people out there willing to help a total stranger.

As the trip concludes you really empathise with Lydia as she battles getting back to the routine of everyday life far from the adventure, rattlesnakes and bears! No doubt her next adventure is already being planned…..go with the Crazy & good luck Lydia!

As a kind of footnote at the end of the book there’s 26 pages from a Facebook Q & A session that answer many questions that you may well find yourself pondering while reading “A Divide Of Two Halves”. This made for interesting reading as well as giving you something extra after the book had concluded. For the avid cyclist there is also a full breakdown of the bike Lydia used, what equipment, kit and yes even clothing….or lack of!

Monday, 5 February 2018

Become a Pledge....Punk!

Just got back from the Gathering or maybe you didn't go....either way it seems the perfect time to think about getting your Pledge in to support Steve Grantley in releasing the new RT-Zed album "FUNKPUNK".

Pledges start at just £6.99 which will get you the download but there are also CD's, Vinyl, T-Shirts, Drum sticks, signed Drum heads, exclusive listening party and one lucky person will get a signed snare drum that was played on both SLF & The Alarm shows!

Head over to the Pledge page before you forget, it takes 2 seconds!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

RT-Zed album news....

Keep an eye out on Wednesday as Steve Grantley will be making an announcement regarding the new RT-Zed album.... for those of you on Facebook make sure you have liked the RT-Zed page which for your convenience you can find by clicking HERE!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

James Stevenson "40 Years" A selective Interview!

For 40 years James Stevenson has lent his unique talent to a massively diverse selection of bands & solo artists with the release of "40 Years in the Rock 'n' Roll Wilderness (a Selective Retrospective)" you can now marvel at the diversity while enjoying some truly great music....and guitar solos!

What made you decide to release a retrospective?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few years. The logistics were quite complicated, getting all the right permissions etc. but I kind of wanted to do it for myself – me being the only common thread. I think it’s an interesting collection – and also I wanted to introduce people to some of the lesser known artists whose work I really admire and to introduce fans of one band to others I play in.

Why now?

The time just felt right. It’s actually taken about two years to sort it all out.

With such a long and broad career how did you go about choosing which tracks to include?

Tons of different factors. It was hard. I would have loved a Scott Walker track on there, but sometimes the logistics were too complicated or permission was impossible to obtain. I had to like the track myself. I know that sounds weird but I have played on stuff I didn’t like just to pay the bills.

What was it like revisiting some of the more off the beaten track songs during your selection process?

That for me was a really enjoyable part. I hadn’t heard the Charlie Harper song for years. The Gary Holton track was something I suddenly remembered at the last minute and knew I had to include it.

The album kicks off, quite rightly, with “Urban Kids” by Chelsea, recording that must have been pretty special considering how young you were at the time?

Yeah I was nineteen I think. Kit Lambert produced it. Working with him was really great. I think that was the first time I played proper lead guitar on a record.

I’m guessing from some of the absences of material reflecting parts of your career you may not have been able to secure the rights for some songs?

Well everyone was really helpful. Billy Idol’s manager refused me permission for the Gen X track – so I went to Tony James who got them to change their minds – so I owe him for that. When I went to Beggars for Desire by Gene Loves Jezebel they just said I could have it “gratis” which was really sweet of them – usually you have to pay an advance. Obviously it’s easier if a mate, or you yourself, own a recording.

There's nothing representing your time in The Cult?

Well I’m not on any Cult recordings. I’m sure no guitarist except Billy Duffy ever will be. I was just a hired gun. There might be the odd live recording with me on it but I was never a member of the band – I was just a hired gun, so it never entered my mind to try to include a Cult track.

What made you choose “Andy Warhol” by Gen X ? Does it have fond memories or is it a nod to your present Bowie connection with Holy Holy?

I just thought it was a great version – very different to Bowie’s. The band really gave it our own slant. And I suspect many people have never heard it. Dancing With Myself would have been a bit too obvious.

You’ve said on social media before that one of the favourite things you ever did was the Henry Badowski album “Life Is A Grand…” I’m guessing it’s not an album that most people are familiar with, what makes it so special to you?

Well I was in bands at school with Henry so I’ve known him virtually my whole life. He’s a very talented and unique songwriter and instrumentalist. Yeah, he just made that one album for A&M in 1981, but he still has a cult following. I’ve often tried to talk him into recording new material commercially, but he hates the music industry.

Your start with Chelsea & Gen X doesn’t seem a natural fit to bring you to Kim Wilde & Annabel Lamb what was it they wanted you to bring to their sound?

Well things just happen along the way don’t they? Mickie Most got me in with Kim because he wanted there to be a band in the Kids In America video. I only play on a few tracks on her first two albums. Annabel was really just a session. Wally Brill who produced the first Chelsea album was producing it – so he knew what I sounded like and wanted a bit of that on the song. She went on to have a hit with a cover of The Doors’ Riders On The Storm of course.

I thought I knew most of the acts you’d been involved with, baring some of the sessions maybe, but The Hot Club and The Smart are new ones to me! What can we expect and what made them essential tracks to include on “40 Years…”?

Well Hot Club was the first band I had with Glen Matlock. We only made two singles, both with different singers. Steve Allen from Deaf School and The Original Mirrors is on the track I chose, which was a B side. When he left we got Clark Datchler in. He and Calvin went on to form Johnny Hates Jazz. It was kind of an unfocused band – but still important to me because it got me out on the road again which I hadn’t done for a while because I’d been a professional mimer with Kim for over a year. As for The Smart let me make it clear at the outset the name The Smart was nothing to do with me LOL. Dave Martin the singer was the rhythm guitarist in Chelsea and he and Geoff the bass player left to form The Smart in 1980. They asked me to join a couple of years later. We made an album that never got released at the time. Epic kept saying they were going to sign the band but never did – typical of the industry at that time. I actually really like the album – you can get it now – so I had to include a track.

Many will know Gary Holton from his acting career in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet or musically for his time in Heavy Metal Kids so where does The Gang Show fit in?

Well just after Hot Club, Glen and I formed a band with him. As well as an actor he was a rock and roll legend of course. I don’t think Big Tears has ever been released before. I just realised I had to include it right and the end of compiling 40 Years. I remembered it in the nick of time. I saw The Heavy Metal Kids at The Biba Rainbow Room when I was about fourteen and they were brilliant – especially Gary. I think I went to that gig with Henry Badowski actually……

For those that haven’t heard it before it may surprise some people that you feature on “Brand New You’re Retro” by former Massive Attack member Tricky which is very different to the genres that you usually favour.

Yeah – you end up on all sorts of records along the way LOL. I actually loved playing on Maxinquaye – I’m pretty sure I’m on a lot of it – but only got credited on this one track.

Was it difficult trying to mix different genres into a working running order?

No – it’s more or less chronological except here and there where I’ve kept tracks by the same bands next to each other in the running order. For example Desire and Break The Chain by GLJ are about seven years apart time-wise but I kept them next to each other on the CD.

When you approached this project did you have certain essential cornerstones that you had from day one or was the selection process fairly fluid?

The track-listing changed all the time. I was mortified when I first got refused Gen X – although I wasn’t in the band for long it was an important part of my career I felt I had to include. The cornerstones were the bands I feel are most important in my career – Chelsea, Gen X, GLJ, The Alarm, The International Swingers and Holy Holy.

Did you have any trusted friends that would suggest songs to you or give you a deciding vote if you were stuck?

Yes a few people. There are friends you respect whose help you engage when you can’t make a decision. Jules Peters vetoed the original cover LOL – which I’m glad about because Karl Parsons came up with a brilliant one after that.

What tracks were on the short list but didn’t make the final album?

It was especially tough deciding which tracks to include from the first Chelsea album and also The Smart. I nearly went with Something’s Got To Give from Under Attack too because I love the song. Also from Chelsea’s Faster, Cheaper And Better Looking – Cosy Family Way almost didn’t make it but then I decided I really liked the guitar solo LOL.

You’ve chosen just 3 songs to represent your work within The Alarm, “45 RPM”, “Superchannel” & “My Town” what is it about them that stands out for you above others?

Well Superchannel and 45 were both hits, that’s why I went with them. Then it was a toss up between My Town and Something’s Got To Give. Tough choices.

You’ve not chosen anything from your latest albums with either Chelsea or Gene Loves Jezebel is there any reason for this?

I just felt they were too recent – I’m really proud of both Mission Impossible and Dance Underwater - they need to be listened to in their entirety – for now anyway.

Your collaborations with Glen Matlock see you choose 2 tracks from the Philistines & 3 from The International Swingers. Now that Glen has left the Swingers do you have any plans to work together again?

Well John Carlucci’s been playing bass with The Swingers and he’s worked out great. But with Glen never say never, I guess. He told us the reason he didn’t want to do TIS anymore was that he wanted to stop playing bass and concentrate on being a singer songwriter. But recently he’s been playing bass with Clem and Walter Lure in The Heartbreakers so who knows.

The retrospective closes with 2 tracks from your excellent solo album “Everything’s Getting Closer To Being Over”, I remember you saying you were writing a follow up album so what’s the latest and how long will we have to wait to hear it considering how busy you are?

Well I’ve written the title track – it’s called The Other Side Of The World. It’s about my younger brother Dave and his battle with early onset Alzheimers. It’s been absolutely fucking heartbreaking

Are there any plans for a Vol. 2 if the album is successful?

Hadn’t thought of that. Maybe, although getting this one together has been a monster job.

Lastly……what can we expect from James Stevenson in 2018?

Well there’s a lot of Alarm in the diary. I want to get out and promote Dance Underwater with GLJ because I think it’s such a great album. Holy Holy too of course and also there may be some stuff with Daphne Guinness whose album I played on courtesy of Mr. Visconti. Sometimes I don’t know what to expect to come round the corner myself……

James, as always it's been amazing! Thank you & see you at the Gathering!

"40 Years in the Rock 'n' Roll Wilderness (a Selective Retrospective)" is available to order now for just £15 plus £3 p&p! Just CLICK HERE for details!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

James Stevenson Retrospective

James has released a double disc selective retrospective covering a broad spectrum of his career, of course there are some gaps but what do you expect when your cv is as long as James'!

 "40 Years In The Rock 'n' Roll Wilderness" will be available from early February for £15 plus £3 p&p (or grab it in person if you are fortunate to be attending The Gathering in a few weeks) and can be ordered direct from James by clicking HERE!

The 32 tracks James has selected are....

1. Chelsea - Urban Kids
2. Chelsea - Trouble Is The Day
3. Charlie Harper - Barmy London Army
4. Gen X - Andy Warhol (live)
5. Henry Badowski - Baby Sign Here With Me
6. Kim Wilde - Water On Glass
7. Annabel Lamb - Tell Him
8. Hot Club - Heat
9. The Smart - Don't Worry
10.Gary Holton and The Gang Show - Big Tears
11. Gene Loves Jezebel - Desire (Come And Get It)
12. Gene Loves Jezebel - Break The Chain
13. Tricky - Brand New You're Retro
14. Gene Loves Jezebel - Come Naturally
15. Jay Aston - Who Wants To Go To Heaven?
16. Gene Loves Jezebel - Jealous (Acoustic Version)
17. The Alarm - 45 RPM
18. The Alarm - Superchannel
19. The Alarm - My Town
20. Beki Bondage - Move Over
21. Chelsea - Sod The War
22. Chelsea - Living In The Urban UK
23. Chelsea - Cosy Family Way
24. Chelsea - Home
25. Glen Matlock And The Philistines - Open Mind
26. Glen Matlock And The Philistines - Hey Mister
27. The International Swingers - FBI
28. The International Swingers - Fool's Holiday
29. The International Swingers - Whatever Works Now
30. Holy Holy - The Width Of A Circle (live)
31. James Stevenson - Suzi's Problem
32. James Stevenson - Come On People

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Smiley's Friends In The Afterglow Interview

As we all eagerly await the release of the brand new release from Smiley and his many friends he took time out of his birthday (bless him) to answer a few burning questions about his new masterpiece....

So let's get straight into the new album "Smiley's Friends In The Afterglow" - What can we expect?

Well, it's album number 5 in the feels more mature and cohesive..Maybe I'm just getting better at it! I used some new co writers, some new friends, some old friends. Those who have heard it say it's the best one yet, there's only one way to find out See for yourselves folks!

What made you go to social media for suggestions for the albums name?

I didn't have a title.... and I was in North Wales and was due to go and have an artwork meeting with Karl Parsons, I told him I didn't have a title and he suggested putting it out there for fun. I was staggered at how many made the effort to make suggestions (hence why they are all name checked on the sleeve)...Anyway I whittled them down to 10 and sent them to Karl the following morning. When I got to his that afternoon he had already finished the artwork! He picked "Afterglow" and the artwork is incredible! Again!....and it was tied in to Alan Thompson which made it even more meaningful.

How do you go about recording the myriad of guests that feature on the album, do you manage to get them all down to Sunshine Corner Studio when time allows or do you give specific instructions and get the part digitally transferred for you to mix?

Some come in, some send their parts, whatever suits really. I was in the studio with the Alarm and when Mikey went to get a curry I got James to play guitar on "25 Words Or Less"... you have to strike like a ninja sometimes!

Do the songs choose who you ask to guest or do you write with certain people in mind?

Some things are written with people in mind but it's mostly after they are written that I approach people. Like "25 Words Or Less" is about Iggy Pop and when I saw him at a festival in the summer Steve Norman was playing with him so that was written in the stars! Craig Adams played on "Prophecy" from his house in America, James Stevenson had to play on "25 Words Or Less" or I wouldn't share my sweets on the tour bus! And Mikey added some words to finish a couple of them. If you don't ask you don't get. I don't always have the nerve to ask...we were in the studio with Billy Duffy and I was dying to ask him but I bottled it! Next time, maybe! 

I notice Mark Warden is listed, what is his contribution and did you have any conversations with him about how to mix the album as you both have production credits to your names?

Mark is a great guitarist. I often send him tracks for his opinion and when he heard "Uprising" he asked to put some guitar on it. What he sent back was incredible! I really value Marks opinion, as a producer and as a friend.

Did James Stevenson suggest his Holy Holy band mate Jessica Lee Morgan or did you approach her after seeing her?

I met her at The Alarm show in Cardiff. I had been to see Holy Holy that week so we had a nice chat, I asked if she fancied being on a track and she played some sax on "Real Love". She's lovely, she's supporting at the Ascot show on Feb 10.

Alan Thompson features on the album, he sadly passed unexpectedly at the end of last year, I know you had a pretty special camaraderie...what can you tell us about his contribution?

Alan was my muse for the last 3 albums. Every idea, lyric, demo, string arrangement I ran past him. We were about 8 songs into "Afterglow" when he suddenly died, broke my heart, I adored him. It left a massive hole in my soul. I wrote the track "Afterglow" about him with John James Newman and then when I was mixing remembered he had played bass on "Real Love". Mixing those tracks was emotional. I played "Afterglow" to Kez and my mate Tony, when it had finished I turned around and they were in tears.

I miss him man....he was one in a million.

I have to ask this. Were there any "Friends" that you couldn't persuade to appear on this album or any that couldn't fit into the schedule?

Not on this album...there were quite a few on the last one, mostly singers. They are a funny breed, singers, I won't name them or shame them! We are still friends but they are not friends! (See what I did there?!)

The "Friends" albums are now becoming an annual thing, personally I love them and they are always amongst my hot picks for the year. Are they a labour of love or do you wish they could find a larger audience?

I love doing them! They seem to be a yearly thing now so I better pull my finger out and start writing the next one! I have noticed that people seem to be more aware of the "Friends" albums and a lot of fantastic musicians have asked to be on them now....who am I to say no, eh?

You've already started promotion of the album with an appearance on Radio 4, does this mean if time allows we will be hearing more from you when the album launches?

I will do anything to spread the word about "Afterglow", I want everyone to hear it! Everyone can share that love simply by making people aware of it...Spread the "Afterglow" love people x

I found the YouTube series of interviews released alongside "Smiley's Friend Eclectic" really interesting, will you be doing any more around "Friends In The Afterglow"?

Here you go......everything you need to know about "Afterglow" in exactly 10 minutes!

Can you reveal who the band & guests will be at the album launch show in Ascot on February this a closely kept secret or is it still fluctuating?

It's not totally in stone yet.There are some special guests coming, there's at least one Alarm member confirmed. Jessica Lee Morgan is confirmed as support and James Walsh plus others so watch this space!

The album is available to pre-order now direct from Sunshine Corner, for those attending The Gathering are you planning on having it available there prior to the official launch date?

Yes, I will have some with me. There will be a little acoustic showcase on the Thursday night, so once again watch this space! TBC

Are there any plans to maybe do a few more live dates or is this just not practical currently?

 I would love to. I will see how it goes, see if Stevenson wants to do some double headers as he has a new album out too. Especially in America, buy one Alarm member and get one free!

What are your hopes for "Friends In The Afterglow"?

For it to be heard by as many people as possible...and hopefully enjoyed!

You appeared alongside your writing partner Graham Turner on the Mike Read TV series "Tin Pan Alley" which searched for the best unsung songwriters that are out there currently. What did you get from the series and did it open any doors for you?

Not really, cheap TV.

The song featured on the series was "End Of The World" which has featured on 2 of the Friends albums ("Far Out Places" & "On Sunshine Corner") was recently covered, without your knowledge, by former Hawkwind sax player & vocalist Nik Turner who released his own "space rock" version both as a single and on his album "Life In Space". Is this still a touchy subject or does it speak to the quality of your writing that others wish to cover your songs?

At first I was quite annoyed that he hadn't asked, but then it felt complimentary. We contacted his record company and they sent us a little gift so all good on that front. Oh, and a review of his album said it was the best song on the album, can't argue with that!

Last year was a pretty hectic year for you, two Alarm albums, a huge amount of Alarm live dates as well as Archive shows (hopping back and forth from the USA to accommodate both at one stage) ....what were the highlights for you?

I LOVED touring America! Can't wait to go back. Alarm shows are ace because you look out and pretty much know everyone looking back at you! It's a family, like the Brady Bunch but cooler or The Cosby Show, without the court case!

You feature on the new Ian McNabb album "Our Future In Space" who was one of the "Friends" on both "Eclectic" and "Afterglow", what can we expect from it and are you likely to be doing any live dates in support of the release in light of the cancellation of The Icicle Works touring commitments for the year?

I love McNabb. He's ace so I would love to do some live stuff with him. His new album will be awesome.

What does this year have in store for you currently?

Well The Alarm dominate with a new album, shows in the UK, Europe & USA and finally doing some LHS stuff like Snowdon and The Grand Canyon. Plus McNabbs album & hopefully some live shows, also working with Hard Fi which will be fun. Producing some acts at Sunshine Corner and sharing the "Afterglow" love whilst writing the next one! Plus a new pup and a wife and kids....that should keep me going!

Many thanks! See you in Llandudno!

Always a pleasure Rob, looking forward to seeing everyone in a few weeks, love to you all!