Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Steve Allan Jones Interview

Steve Allan Jones has been a touring member of The Alarm, was the music supervisor for the "Vinyl" soundtrack as well as being an on going member of Spear Of Destiny but that's only the tip of the iceberg as I found out when I caught up with Steve this month. 

How did you first meet Mike Peters?

I was 17 and had the lead in the Rhyl High school play.We were rehearsing in the drama studio.After our rehearsal this bunch of youths starting setting up a few amps and a drum kit. I stayed to listen to this god awful noise they were making. Somehow it sounded great! After they finished I shuffled up to say hello. Two Mikes were playing guitar Mike Evans and Mike Peters.. I asked if they wanted a piano player.. I was in!

You formed a band together while still at school, what can you tell us about it?

 Mike and I didn’t really know what to do.We jammed in the Bod Unig pub in Dyserth. There’s a fab photo of us jamming in Rhyl Youth Club..Mike and I,Steve Oldfield ,Glyn Crossley,Eddie MacDonald,Nige Buckle and Tony Babbington..Eventually we had a lineup . Harry Hippy was the name given to us by a DJ at the Stables nightclub where we rehearsed.We played a couple of school gigs and some Stables sixth form shows. In fact I think our first proper show was Mike’s sister’s 21st birthday party. I am pretty sure we played “If you Think You Know How To Love Me “ by Smokie!

You went to see the Sex Pistols with Mike in 1976, was this what inspired you to enter a career in music like it did so many others?

We used to go to a rock club in Chester called Quaintways. As we left one week there was a poster on the wall... next week the notorious Sex Pistols! We went and were blown away by the Pistols energy. This was very early on. After the show we ended up in the bar and the band were there. I remember Mike and I being tongue tied. In the end I think Mike nudged me forward (he was quite shy in those days!) and I mumbled something like “ How do you write your songs?” Johnny Rotten looked me up and down as if I was shit on his shoe and looked away with the words “Get the beers in Glen!” This encounter awakened something in both of us.  I am not sure we could see a career in music but we could see that writing our own tunes was a way forward.Simple direct tunes with hooks and energy. Although I had some formal music knowledge this punk rock didn't need that information.. For us the world had opened up and we wanted some of it.

What was the punk scene like in Wales? 

There wasn't one. I can only speak of Rhyl. By now Mike and I had gone our separate ways. Mike had formed the Toilets and I had formed Amsterdam.Mike  and various others had taken over the 1520 Club in Rhyl for punk nights.. Big in Japan played one night.There was spitting. Mike was more punk than me..I wanted to be Elvis Costello and Mike wanted to be Joe Strummer 

You were in a few bands in those Rhyl days – Stripey, Amsterdam and X Men what are your memories of those bands?

Stripey –cabaret - great fun learnt a lot.
Amsterdam – original songs, paid my dues gigging across the north west nearly had some success but again great fun.
 X Men-  the first band with a proper concept. Grey shirts ,two keyboard players.. sort of New Romantic . We played two gigs and went down a storm so rather than mess about we decided to move to London. Only Pete Picton (now in major league journalism) and I made it to London. Whereupon the X Men were no more.

Then came Tuphelo Torpedoes with Gareth Jones (Gaz Top) was that when things started to get moving? 

Well actually next was my stint with Glasgow band Berlin Blondes. They were signed to EMI then Gary Numan’s label. We toured a lot. Supported Theatre of Hate amongst others. After a tour with Hot Gossip (yes really) we changed singers and got in David Freeman. David had been in punk band The Flys. Great singer. He went on to write No More I Love Yous covered by Annie Lennox. The Blondes split despite having regrouped and had plenty of record company interest. I formed a new band Shazam with Pete Picton. Sort of electronic Northern soul. Then a band called War of  Roses. Again so near to signing a deal. We demoed for EMI amongst others. I remember getting very drunk one day and falling through a coffee table.. that was it .. no more music for me.
Anyhow..I had dropped out of music for a while and lost contact with The Alarm crew. I remember bumping into Gareth at Pete Pictons wedding. Gareth had some songs he wanted to play so we got the Tuphs together and played a few gigs. We also wrote a  couple of TV show themes together. I think Gareth’s enthusiasm got me back into music.

Steve Allan Jones - European Tour 1990
You joined The Alarm for the European dates on the Change tour, how did that come about and what stands out for you after all these years?
Was you joining (while Mark was touring with Sinead O’Connor) a band decision or helped by you being managed by Twists step dad Pete Buckle?

 I will answer these two together. I had moved back to North Wales to write my own stuff. Pete Buckle was an enormous help, providing me with the means to do a year of writing. Strangely enough Gareth sent me MP3s of those tunes so I am going to rework them in the New Year! Anyhow..Pete had a call from Nige to say that Mark Taylor had got another gig and could I step in. I seem to remember there was a moment in Pete’s office when I just didn't think I was up to joining the band. For one ,there were to be no rehearsals.. I was sent cassettes of the tunes and learnt them in North Wales. Mike, Nige and myself flew out of Manchester to the Netherlands on the day of the Towyn floods. I did the soundcheck and there I was that night playing! Terrifying. There were so many amazing moments on that tour. During a gig in Italy the sequencer went down on one song. Might have been Sold Me Down the River. So Eddie jumped back on bass .. I had held the bass line down while he did. The whole song took off.. Dave went for a walk round the theatre ...just a band playing but something special happened that night. I can still feel the buzz.

How did the suicide of Pete Buckle affect you?

We were on the European tour and I spoke to Pete on the phone. He sounded so different. I have spoken little about Pete’s passing and I like to keep my feelings about this private. However , I will always be grateful to Pete for everything he did to make me believe in myself. He was a remarkable man. Indeed Nige's mum Barbara was a source of wise words for many years too. I was very close to them both.

How did you take the news of The Alarms split, knowing the band did you see it coming?

 I could see it coming. The European tour was strange. Although the four lads were playing together something wasn't right.I knew them all since the early days and they were pulling apart. I could see some of the reasons too. I am sure that everyone has pressure in their lives but being in a band has to be up there with the most pressurised. You are work colleagues but also friends. You have your band life and your personal life. It is very difficult to find yourself amidst all the noise and travelling. On a personal level I was upset by the split. This isn't hot news but I was friends with them all and to see four mates fall out was hard to take. It’s one thing to split the band but the circumstances were traumatic. I am sure  that in hindsight,  the lads wish it hadn't panned out the way it did.

You continued to be involved with Twist and Dave Sharp post split, what do you remember of this time?

 I suppose after The Alarm split I thought I would go back to writing. However I had no manager and actually no work! That is when I fell into theatre work. However I digress..
Nige and I wanted to write dance music together. I flew out to San Fran and spent three weeks working on tunes. I think they eventually saw a release..its 20 years ago! Nige was instrumental in my adoption of the computer as a creative tool. Nige is also one of the best drummers I have had the pleasure to work with. I also played in Dave’s band for a while. Good fun. He is a very talented man.
I feel I should also talk about Eddie here. Eddie was in an early incarnation of my band Amsterdam. We were still kids really. Eddie has a real sense of a hook line and although he is not involved with music at the moment,his legacy as a songwriter stands the test of time.

Many fans will know you from the mighty Spear Of Destiny of course and from Kirks solo works both live and studio with the “Dutch Masters” series. How did you get the gig?

I think it was 2000. I had  a call out of the blue from Liam – Kirk’s manager. He said he had got my number from Si  the drummer in Dave Sharp’s band.  Liam said that a keys player had let them down and could I do the gig . It turns out that it was the very first Westworld weekend. So I got sent cassettes of the songs and learnt them as best I could. That Saturday I set up my gear on stage and Kirk came up to me and said where were you in rehearsals? I explained that I was the new boy. Once more I was on stage with a band without having rehearsed! Since then I have played with Spear /Kirk every year.

Your first Spear album was “Loadestone” I believe, what are your memories of that album? 

To be honest I can’t remember much! Kirk and I have a way of working together. I have signature sounds that Kirk likes and he will often say try that sound. I have learnt that Kirk is a unique songwriter with his own sense of melody. When playing piano I have developed almost a power chord style which, for musos out there often means no thirds!

What dictates whether or not you appear on a Spear album or tour, is it availability or whatever Kirk decides?

It is usually cost! Touring with an extra player can be the difference between profit and loss . Spear fans can hear me virtually on most Spear gigs as I have recorded various keys parts for use live. I think I have appeared on all Kirk /Spear albums since 2000.

You also featured on the following “Imperial Prototype” album, another personal fave of mine, with tracks such as “Berlin Berlin” and “Santa Clause” what are your favourite moments on record with SoD?
 Although I always love appearing on Spear albums, I prefer the Dutch Masters series. Usually Kirk and I plus a few guests.

The latest in the “Dutch Masters” series (Volume Five) has had great fan reactions, were you surprised at how quickly tracks like the cover of “Skyfall” spread around the net?

Not surprised at all.”DM5” is a fantastic album. I am very proud of it. Kirk always tries to push the boundaries and this time its resulted in a really wonderful mix. Skyfall..the story behind it..Kirk calls and says he wants to cover it and what do I think. Well I thought it was inspired. I worked out a rough piano arrangement and we began work..it became obvious that Kirk’s version was going to be different. I kept telling him to listen to the original. I could have told him the notes to sing but then he would be copying. All through rehearsals KB never quite nailed it. It would fall apart somewhere. I knew he would do it in the gig. KB and I have done a few Akoustik gigs but this year's Westworld and the short tour in the summer were the most nerve wracking. I think there lies the magic. We have both been in the business for a long time but I can honestly say that we were both nervous as hell. When KB sings those “money” notes there is no-one on the planet who can touch him for sheer thrilling singing.

How was the Westworld Weekend this year?  

Following on from the above .The Saturday afternoon gig. We finished with Skyfall..the electricity was in the air. We finished the song and for a brief moment there was silence. I think everyone didn't know how to react. I swear I heard someone crying. All I can say is that I treasure my moments on and off stage with KB and I am glad to say he is my friend.

How early on did you become involved in the “Vinyl” project?

Day 1! Here is my recollection of the story. Many years ago I was having a cuppa with Mike and he casually mentions  that someone had sent him a script based around the Alarm scam. I remember emailing Sara in LA asking her if she had heard of Jim Cooper (scriptwriter) or John Williams ( executive producer) Sara emailed back to say that she was going to see John about a project the next day! 24 hours later John had shown Sara the script and she wanted to direct it. Funny old world.
During shooting Mike called to ask if I could give a hand . I ended up working with the actors to learn the tunes that were used in filming. I also coached the auditionees. I was  filmed for that sequence but thankfully my performance ended up on the cutting room floor. Mike and I reshaped the young bands tune near the end of the movie too..

Did you know Sara Sugarman from your teen years? 

Yes and here the circle completes. The school play I was in where I first met Mike  featured a young third former – Sara Sugarman.

Can you describe the Vinyl writing and recording sessions, did everything come together as quickly as it appeared to on the making of DVD?

Mike and I had already started writing together for the musical. The film had been shot and Mike and I had seen a rough cut with original punk music from the 70’s. There was no way that the film could afford the fees to use those songs so Mike and I offered to write the soundtrack. The cornerstone was Mike finding the original Toilets songs. Mike and I were also trying to write new stuff for it too. We had a few ideas. My concern was that the new stuff and the old stuff wouldn't co-exist. So I suggested that if we were going to make this work, we had to try and recreate the spirit of punk. So Mike called Aerial studios and within a week we were there writing and recording. Phil Daniels,Smiley and James came up to contribute. Mike took the lead with the Toilets songs. Sometimes we literally played a song as we were learning it  and that is what you hear on the soundtrack! The basic tracks came together in one weekend. We then took those away and added to them at the Chapel. Mike was going out on a tour so we got everything we needed from Mike before he went. The song Breed Apart came about right at the end of these sessions. Mike had an idea  which he played to me. We worked on the chord sequence trying to add a twist to the structure. I remember saying to Mike about the major to minor changes in 68 Guns so we worked through the song to get something similar.

Did working with such a tight deadline help give the music a real urgency?

The tight deadlines were a help to get the spirit of the music right. With Mike away on tour it was left to Martin Wilding and I to add more vocals and mix for the film. It all happened quickly with four or five tracks going over to Sara every day. Even then that wasn't the end of it. Sara emailed a few times to ask for short incidental pieces. For example the music behind the young band leaving the chapel in the van was all me.. pitched changed and altered..at one point I am also a bit Buzzcocks! Wherever there was a music gap I filled it.
As we were replacing music in the film we had to keep to the tempos as closely as we could. Smiley is such a fantastic drummer that that was no problem! 

How was it with James Stevenson playing bass rather than his more familiar Les Paul?

That was Mike’s idea. I loved the way James gave some real oomph to the songs. He is a clever bloke!

You are credited as co writer on a total of five of the tracks on Vinyl, can you talk us through your influences and ideas?

“A Breed Apart”  See above

“Rip It Up” – Mike’s idea which we batted back and forth until we got the version you hear on the album. Phil added his lyrical slant to it too..The idea was to provide an authentic soundtrack to the Weapons of Happiness musical history

“La La La London” Again a Mike idea which we played in my studio initially.. the rhythm changes from verse to chorus.I listened to this yesterday and realised that the uncredited trumpet on this track is played by Stan the Man

“Cowpat Town” One of the ones we improvised in the studio. James had a bass line and I had a chord sequence. Phil provided the rest!

“Immediate Girl”  This is an old Toilets tune which we reshaped . I think I added the middle 8 section.. I wanted the duel  lead vocal to echo American new wave bands.

You are also the Music Supervisor for the album, can you tell us a little about what that involved? 

Traditionally the music supervisor  has a more unexciting role.. however if there was music required I was there!  Sara asked what I wanted to be credited as and as I had musically directed /coached and co-written songs it was easier to call myself music supervisor! I even edited La La La London to fit the picture we had.

Was your organ line on “Alarm Alarm” a homage to Dave Greenfield or just a way of getting the ’77 sound? 

It is actually a Hohner Pianet – a small cheap electric piano sound. A very Stranglers sound
Interesting fact. The soundtrack in the film and the OST CD release are different mixes.

How did you break into TV work?

As I said, it was Gareth who  initially helped. I still get bits and pieces and have recently teamed up with a major TV composer so 2014 may well see me work more in this field.

What would people have possibly heard without knowing it’s you? 

That is easy. For about four months of the year I write and produce childrens audio. You may have heard me singing and playing original or traditional songs on albums for Early Learning Centre or Marks and Spencer. For anyone reading this outside the UK I write for Imaginarium the worldwide toy company.  Gareth once said he was walking down Green lanes in North London when he heard me blaring out of a car! Even stranger The One Show was on a couple of years ago.It was a feature about caterpillars. I was watching it... but the soundtrack was me singing a song about Creepy Crawlies! Every so often in the background I hear one of mine. I also co-wrote an album with Pete Coyle (LotusEaters) which once got played in the background of the Emmerdale pub.

Your site states that you are working on a musical called “OXY” with Mike Peters and Paul Sirett, what can you tell us about it? 

Very little at this stage. Its a project Mike and I began well before the movie. Last year I said that either we moved it on or forgot about it. We moved it on. So much so that it has changed and morphed into its own life. I can say that it still has a lot of the both of us in it. I will also say that it is about two brothers who form a punk band in the 70’s.

What is Mikes involvement? 

From the outset we both wrote the synopsis and music. Now with Paul on board the split is three ways. It is a democratic way of working that we are all comfortable with.When the soundtrack appears you will hear what I mean.

Is it going to have a static run or do you hope to tour it? 

Both! It has been taken up and we are now in the hands of the producers.

You’re about to hit the panto season, what are you doing and where can we catch it? As I write I am in the Floral Pavilion New Brighton until Jan 5th. Jack and the Beanstalk. Cool cast, packed houses, cheesey jokes but the music  is poppy and rocky. Great fun and so different from rock and roll.

What are your plans for 2014?

The musical takes centre stage for me. If it  all pans out , you will  see the show this year. The first batch of songs are complete and we are all very proud of them. We have some more compositional work to do on it which will happen mid January. Nothing else confirmed yet however so what will be will be. I am writing a new childrens album in Spring 2014. Probably more work with Kirk.I usually make an appearance at the Gathering either on stage or at the bar!

Steve Allan Jones, thank you very much and here's to a great year ahead!

1 comment:

  1. fantastic interview ,very interesting to hear about steve career