The past two years for Scottish singer, musician and songwriter Alan Reed has been a watershed. Parting company from Pallas, the band he had fronted for 26 years, Alan, with a little help from his friends, has been tirelessly working, recording and performing. The results have been the release of an EP Dancing with Ghosts last year, a string of live dates as a support act and his new album, First In A Field of One. Already confirmed as one of the acts for next year’s Celebr8 point two festival, DPRP’s Alison Henderson met up with Alan in a Guildford pub, close to his home in Surrey, to talk about life after Pallas, his day job and the joys of multi-tasking.
Interview for DPRP by Alison Henderson, photos by www.danipics.com
Alison Henderson: It is lovely to finally catch up with you. What have you been up to recently?
Alan Reed: It has been quite strange as I have been busy promoting the new album without the aid of a team of professional PR people. Much of it is down to me this time. Before it came out on October 8, I really felt the pressure building. It has been released on Rob Reed’s White Knight label – and he has been working on the new Magenta and Kompendium albums as well as mine, but it has all helped me stay focused on the reason why I am doing it. My priority had been on finishing the album then focus on the back room roles. It has been very interesting for me to do some of the boring admin and donkey work rather than expect someone else to do it! It has been quite an alarming experience to find out what has to be done in the run-up to releasing an album, including doing the Press and distribution.
Alison Henderson: So how do you feel about the way it has all gone?
Alan Reed: It has been all good and I am now enjoying a great sense of accomplishment and also because of the live dates I have with Proguphoria (held on October 20) and some live dates with It Bites. In fact, at the moment, I have stopped looking for gigs as it has become a bit of a full time job because I keep being offered stuff which is lovely. It is a real buzz being asked to do gigs and I shall start working on that further once the album is out. I want to get a proper live band together and it is going to be fun finding the right people to play. They have to be the right personalities as the chemistry between us will be important. I have a couple of people in mind that I have looked up already but I will continue to make some tentative inquiries. Having an electric band will be very useful as it would be good to nail some European dates once I have found my usual suspects. It is weird because although I decided to do the album, there has been this parallel schedule with the live acoustic set and it has all come together quite organically and by accident, certainly not by design.
Alison Henderson: You have been getting a terrific reception when you play live.
Alan Reed: Yes, it has been interesting keeping the momentum up and feeling like the master of my own destiny now, as opposed to being a member of a band which can often resemble shepherding cats! I was very lucky to find Mark Spencer to play with me who has been very flexible. And we have made it work financially too so with that going well, it has given me a real appetite and it feels as though I am pushing open another door. In fact, it all seems to be working really well.
Alan Reed: Oh yes, the parting of the ways or the Darkness as I prefer to call it. As you can imagine, I was exceptionally angry about what happened and this is me speaking from my point of view about how it affected me although it is all in the past now, which is how the song concludes. However, it was a difficult thing at the time as I did not know what on earth was going on or what to do with myself as a result. So this is me saying I am going to prove myself and that I am not reliant on others any more to define myself. But that does not mean there is ever going to be any chance of forgiving, kissing or making up. It is what it is.
Alison Henderson: That theme you take up in The Real Me, which also sounds an angry song.
Alan Reed: Yes, I also wrote it to deal with the darker side and give it some recognition as we all have it in us. I guess it all sounds a bit Freudian and it is coloured by some of the elements of what happened with the band. The idea for the song had existed before that but this was me now simply sharpening my pencil.
Alison Henderson: Begin Again seems to have more of an air of optimism.
Alan Reed: That is an interesting song which is about Scotland, and the middle eight is something I played when I was at university but it never quite fitted together into anything elsewhere. It is about a sense of how much more defined everything is since I was growing up in Glasgow. My grandfather worked in the shipyards there and actually helped to build the QE2. I think Scotland has had to work on its self-confidence as a nation and it has been going through something of a cultural renaissance since the 1960s. This is very much a good thing.
Alison Henderson: On that note, tell us a little bit more about your background.
Alan Reed: I actually trained to be an English teacher at Stirling University before I got the gig with Pallas and ran away to Aberdeen to join the rock ‘n roll circus. I graduated in 1988 in English which is still my second language. (Laughs). But I could not afford to keep singing so I reluctantly had to leave the band at one stage and also Scotland. I was working in a theatre and doing lots of stuff in London. Then I applied for various jobs at the BBC and became a trainee sound engineer in news but at the time, I was hoping to transfer to either back to Scotland or to the Maida Vale studios. But I ended up enjoying news far more than I thought I would. The news is the rock ‘n roll part of the BBC and from there, I became a studio manager for programmes such as PM and Newsnight. From there, I got a chance to multi-skill and I was one of the ten to 12 studio engineers the BBC trained up as journalists. So I trained for a year to be a journalist and Huw Edwards, who was then the BBC’s political correspondent before he became the anchorman he is now, taught me news-writing. As a result, I am now Home Duty Editor for BBC News and deploy journalists out on stories 24/7.So because I do work very long days, I have to plan my live dates well ahead and not at short notice.
Alison Henderson: So this must have been really difficult when you and the band split?
Alan Reed: One of the nicest things that happened the moment it became public, I had some fantastic messages from some of my musician mates who got in touch to say how terrible it was and to let them know if I needed a hand. I was really touched about how supportive a lot of people were. One of them was Scott Higham, the drummer with Pendragon, who is someone with whom I clicked a long time back. Scott is so good and so interesting, I needed no hesitation in asking him to play on my album. He is far more than a drummer: he is a percussionist and is far more understated on this album than he usually plays.
Alison Henderson: What about the other musicians who appear on the album?
Alan Reed: There is Jeff Green who I knew through Mike Stobbie who had played on his Jessica album. When we came to do the album demos, we realised we needed someone to do the solo bits so Mike suggested Jeff with whom he got in touch and he said he was interested in doing a track so it was some reciprocal business which we did by email. That is in fact a very cost effective way now of making music as it is too expensive to go and do a whole album in a studio now. The only proper studio time was for the drums when Scott did three days at Karl Groom’s studio in Surrey. Karl has also been one of those “go to” guys as he mixed my album and also the live Yes one. Mike, who I was with in Pallas when I rejoined, was not always available so we worked together on and off as he is an incredibly busy man doing other things like adverts. Christina Booth who does the backing vocals I have known for four or five years after Rob Reed invited me to come and see Magenta a couple of times. I was absolutely gobsmacked by them. She is a lovely lady with real warmth to her and personally, she is one of the funniest people I have ever met and a really good laugh. She is also incredibly easy to get along with so it was real kudos for me as I knew she would add something special as she is the real thing, and I really like the way our voices sounded together.
Alison Henderson: Mike has played a pivotal role in the making of this album.
Alan Reed: Mike’s contribution to the album is significant. He’d always said he wanted to record my voice because he thought he could make it sound better than it had done on the band’s albums. His production background as well as his playing ability made him able to see things in the arrangements that I was only barely aware of. He could look at what I had written and suggest improvements in the chord or harmonic structures as well as using my basic parts and embellishing them. He also made me focus hard on my guitar and bass playing in the recording process. I needed to be much more disciplined there than I would otherwise be. It wouldn’t have sounded anywhere near as good overall without him.
Alison Henderson: Going back to the songs, I particularly like Kingdom of the Blind and the video you shot for it.
Alan Reed: I am glad you mentioned that. Rob Reed shot the video in the churchyard of St Martin’s on the Hill which is on the North Downs not far from Guildford. Rob wanted me to do it in Wales but we went up to the churchyard here and found it had some Celtic crosses as headstones which was ideal. The song is all the way we have to cope with the hand we have been dealt and how we do not have control of our lives as a result. As with all my songs, it was written starting with a vocal melody and the lyrics come afterwards when I build the words around the phrases. They usually end up with a kind of melancholy or dark.
Alan Reed: Steve Hackett. Yes, I had met him two or three times in the past once when I played at a Classic Rock Society gig supporting Arena. He was by the merchandising stand, turned around and said: “Alan. That was a great set.” In London, we were chatting after my set and he was very interested in the 12 string Seagull guitar I was using. They are really nice guitars so I said to him, do you want to have a go? He said yes so we went to the dressing room and there, Steve Hackett was showing me how to play Ripples on my guitar. That was such a lovely compliment and one of those moments I shall never forget, because he is prog royalty. I adored him when I was younger and I remember queuing outside a theatre in Glasgow to go and see him on the Spectral Mornings tour.
Alison Henderson: Talking about teenagers, how on earth do you manage to combine your musical career and day job with family life?
Alan Reed: With great difficulty, let me tell you! It is such a balancing act and my family must get a little fed up at times because it can be a geographical and logistical nightmare. It all takes a lot of careful planning and the shifts I do at the BBC probably enable to do everything I want than if I was working for, say, an insurance company. My children are nine and 13 and both of them like guitars. They do watch the X-Factor but I am all for them making up their own minds about it. Lasting talent does not come through those channels because that is not what those programmes are all about. What I and others are doing is something we value and others value. It is like anything else in life. I try not to interfere with their tastes.
Alison Henderson: It seems as though you are now clear of the past and forging ahead.
Alan Reed: Oh very much so. I needed to get my confidence back and redefine myself. That is what it is all about. But I have found myself in a much better place as a consequence. The next chapter has begun and I am now going to make the best of it, because I can say in all honestly that now I am really genuinely happy.
Alison Henderson: Thanks for taking the time to talk to DPRP and we all wish you well both with the album and the dates with It Bites.
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