Sunday, 13 November 2011

Interview: WelshMansHill

Hello ... Hello ... my old friends ... It's great to see you once again! This article and interview has been in the works for quite a time and comes to you after many long hours of research and effort! Back in May this year, I travelled down to the suburbs of northern Birmingham to meet up with the threesome of extraordinary musicians who are also known as WelshMansHill [WMH]:

RECOMMENDED: WELSHMANSHILL

Phil Hatton, Steve Turner and Phil Ridden are WelshMansHill and when I made the return journey to the Birmingham heartland of ELO in October, an interview with the band on the then imminent release of their debut album "Poparama" on 11/11/11 was recorded for ELO Beatles Forever [ELOBF] which [hopefully] will be broadcast soon [in full or in part] by Hamilton Radio, Radio BackTrack as well as the legendary Beatles and Beyond radio show hosted by Pete Dicks. My interview with WMH comprised fifteen [15] questions and is now available on CD from ELO Beatles Forever [ELOBF] upon request. Yours Truly KJS has paraphrased those interview questions and answers below for your perusal thus:

KJS: WelshMansHill are Phil Hatton; Steve Turner and Phil Ridden [ably assisted by Graham Struggles]. First things first ... why the name “WelshMansHill”?
PH: It's a place where I parked my old 'Commer' camper van once and the name just came to me! It's a lovely place in Sutton Coldfield where we all live and it's a place that has inspired people for hundreds of years.
KJS: Phil Ridden and Steve worked with the late great Brian Connolly of ‘The Sweet’; Graham goes back a long way with ‘Heavyboots’ et al and Phil Hatton has worked with some of the true greats of music including Roy Orbison; most of the Beatles and, of course, Jeff Lynne. But how did Phil; Steve; Phil and Graham get together as WMH?
PR: We've been involved together for 33 years since our first sojourn together as a band to Jersey. We met up again at Phil's dad's funeral three or four years ago, got back in touch with each other; decided to get back into doing music and it's just taken off from there!
ST: Phil Hatton and I have been working together, writing songs and doing bits and pieces for fifteen years or so. We lost touch with Phil [Ridden] for a while, met him at the funeral and just continued from there really! We worked on some of the tracks that we'd got; developed them; got new tracks in and put proper drums on and it materialized into what it is now - the CD!
PH: Some of the ideas for a couple of the songs on: "Poparama" were thought of 33 years ago! Yes, some of the early stuff we did, just a couple of guitar riffs, we put them into a couple of these songs. It's taken a long time! Back then, we were on the ferry going over to Jersey in October to work there for a few months. While we were over there, we were offered a tour supporting 'Tavares' who were a big soul band who we had played with at the 'Top Rank Suite' in Birmingham. And they really liked us. That would have been good but unfortunately we were over in Jersey!
KJS: Who and what are your musical influences and/or heroes?
ST: Mine would be Jimi Hendrix; Led Zeppelin; Free; The Police but there are too many to mention really - but in terms of all-time heroes it has to be Hendrix and probably The Beatles.
PR: Definately the early Beatles/McCartney interest for me, later on in that period The Traveling Wilburys; the Jeff Lynne sort of stuff and the spin-offs with Bob Dylan - that's a big influence. And then up to people like John Hyatt - songwriter - I'm really quite appreciative of that. And even from the early stuff, anything from Black Sabbath onwards really. So really quite an eclectic mix!
PH: I think for me you've got Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett. Then you've got the old big bands, some of them were fantastic like Duke Ellington. What a great dancer and singer was Fred Astaire too! Buddy Rich was great too. All those greats like Nat King Cole - fantastic! Then you go into the Rock 'n' Roll era: Elvis; Buddy Holly ... then you've got The Beatles of course in the sixties and then there's Hendrix and ground breaking bands like Led Zeppelin, The Eagles - another great band, Roy Orbison of course. There such an amalgam of all these guys. You couldn't really pick one because without one, there wouldn't be the others - like dominoes I suppose. Any stuff that's good you can listen to! [Ed: but not Cliff Richard!]
KJS: So how long has “Poparama” been in the making?
WMH: As mentioned earlier; a couple of the riffs go back thirty years but most of the songs go back four or five years. It's a long time ... enough ... there's 'new' material there too!
PH: When you listen to the CD, you can see a lot of work has gone into it. You learn a lot from the best [Jeff Lynne] so you've got to try and make it sound like the best too.
ST: We wanted to be happy with it ourselves before we released it. Consequently that's why there's probably 10 versions of each song on this old computer 'ere! It's a case of fine tuning them week by week until we got to where we are now which is the best we can do!
PR: We've got to let the babies go now!
PH: Yes, we're happy with them all now and I think they all fit nicely with each other. I hope and feel sure that people will like them.
KJS: What then are your hopes for “Poparama”?
PH: We want listeners to like our music because it's something that is different and lasts - because all good tunes do that, really. The good ones last! We've got a load more songs that we're working on. We've got a couple of projects. One is 'The Himalayan Pilots' and the other, of course, is "Poparama II". We are working on those "Poparama II" songs right now - knocking them in to shape for release hopefully in twelve months. We've got some good tunes there.
ST: Basically we want to sell lots and lots of product to get us onto the next level of going around promoting "Poparama" and touring with it, based upon the reaction we get when it's available on November 11th.
PR: It'll be available to buy as a CD or a download via iTunes or amazon MP3.
PH: Yes, something to look forward to!
ST: Christmas number one - that's what we want!
KJS: The eleven [11] songs that make up “Poparama” are: "In Tomorrow's World"; "Alaska"; "Not Really A ..."; "Sunset In The Morning"; "Postmodernist Bluesman"; "Nobody Came"; "Catch A Train"; "When It Rains"; Wendy's Farm"; "Endorphic" and "Getcha". Can you tell us what lies beneath each track?
PH: "Tomorrow's World" is a song of hope and of having things to look forward to. It's a good intro to the album. It's a song to pick people up.
ST: And this is one of the songs where the main riff was stolen from one of those old 'Apathetics' tracks which went back 30 years. As we were working on it, I realized that that riff would fit and we kinda encompassed that as well. It was probably one of the first tracks we did.
PH: It was one of the first songs that we all wrote together. Original - getting away from all the funk stuff back in 1982. A good one to dance to!
ST: "Alaska" came from one of Phil's ideas when he had his camper van! It started as a basic four track thing that Phil put down with the words - I love the words in this song, they're especially good. This is another one of Phil's many songs written in his camper van that he brought to the studio where we developed it.
PH: It's about 'X Factor' and shows like that where you can be a star in a few weeks. And it's not always a good thing as many of them find out later.
PH: "Not Really A ..." is for all the chaps who have been on holiday to Thailand and found out that the girl that they have been talking to is "not really a" girl at all. A lady boy.
ST: It's pretty much tongue-in-cheek. "You're Not Really A Girl" is the full title.
PH: It rocks a long does this song. It's a good one to bang your head to ... especially if you've just been in the company of one of those 'ladies'.
PH: "Sunset In The Morning" ... me and Steve did most of the lyrics with this one. It's about rolling home at 8 'o clock in the morning with the bird song 'full on' and wishing you hadn't been out that night doing what you were doing. A song of regret.
PH: "Postmodernist Bluesman" ... funnily enough the title for that is from a chap I know from years ago from Birmingham when I used to play in a band called 'Heavyboots' with Graham Struggles at 'The Alambra'. I hadn't seen this chap for 40 years or something until I saw him in Erdington where "Mothers" used to be, a really famous nightclub where a lot of top groups played before they became famous. Led Zeppelin; Elton John; Black Sabbath; Moody Blues; ELO - lots of groups. Pink Floyd recorded an album there. This fellow was now a busker and had just come back from France. He gave me this tape recording and the name of this cassette was "Postmodernist Bluesman". We talked about where he had been and "Mothers" so this song is about that chap!
PH: "Nobody Came" is similar to the story about Van Gogh. It's about having a talent - in this case an artist who didn't sell a painting. Nobody got to seeing it. There were no red dots on the frame to show that it was sold and that's part of the song. It's about trying to do something and finding out that even if you've got lots of talent, nobody wants it. Maybe in years to come you'll be appreciated - but not now. But you've got to keep trying.
ST: "Catch A Train" ... another one of Phil's!
PH: It's actually quite a dark song because it's about being addicted to Class A drugs. I always say to stay away from them. because if you get amongst that stuff, it's going to kill you. I've worked with people over the last few years -when I'm not doing music - supporting and counselling people with addiction and mental health problems and I've seen what it does to people so this song tries to warn them off because there isn't a dock leaf to help take away that sting if you get involved with this stuff. So this is a song that will hopefully make people think before using that stuff. That's "Catch A Train".
WMH: So don't catch it!
PH: "When It Rains" ... we got the idea for this - funnily enough - when it was raining ... in Wales! - I was inside a tent at Shell Island ... beautiful place Mochras ... and I got the idea from listening to the rain coming down. "When It Rains" is really about remembering a loved one who isn't there any more and it's about time spent reflecting on that person. If a tear drop goes into a river and that river flows into the sea, that's all part of the rain that one day will fall down on you. And if it's the tear drop of that person, it's something to remind you and refresh your memory. It's a very spiritual song, Keith.
ST: "Wendy's Farm" ... Wendy is the sister of a friend who used to be a roadie with 'The Sweet'. there's no great depth to it - it's just that she had a farm over in Middleton and we went over there three or four years ago. There were some outbuildings that we thought could be a studio hence the name: "Wendy's Farm".
PH: We also thought that it could be a priory type place for people to come to and escape their demons. And that's where we got the idea of people going to "Wendy's Farm" from! "She's the only one that can help".
PH: "Endorphic" is another song that says don't go chasing that thing that you wish you hadn't gone chasing for because it doesn't always turn out right in the end. Whether it's money or love or whatever.
ST: I seem to remember that it was about chasing endorphins ...
PH: Yes ... the things that you get a buzz out of life. Once you've got that 'one', you'll never find it again.
ST: We think Phil has invented his own word in 'endorphic'!
PR: It's a little enjoyable ditty for the end of the album.
PH: The playing on the whole album by Phil and Steve is absolutely top notch. The last song is about lifting your spirits right up, just like the first song: "In Tomorrow's World" ... it's what we wanted to finish the album off with. Quite a few friends have been lifted when they've heard it.
ST: It's a bit of a ditty really ... we were unsure that we were going to include it originally as it didn't fit in with the other tracks but we thought it would be a good song to stick at the end of the album so that it finished on a high note after the 'heavy' tracks.
KJS: If you had to pick a favourite track - what would it be?
ST: I'll say "Sunset In The Morning".
PH: I'd say that as well.
PR: I'd go for "Wendy's Farm" because at the moment I like that production. Steve did a good job on the guitars on that one. Nice simple drumming but it's got a nice spacey, echoey kinda thing on the back end of the guitars ... there's just something else there! Whether it's your own imagination or not - that's my take!
KJS: It's a toss up for me between "Nobody Came" and "When It Rains".
KJS: In my personal opinion; this CD is one of the best I have heard for a very long time. The whole album hangs together very nicely. There is a depth to “Poparama”; a wide range of musical styles and song construction to be found here. I have received much positive feedback as to the songs. WMH appear to be building up a healthy fan base out there on Facebook and internet radio; especially at Hamilton Radio ... what responses have you received to your music?
PR: We've been fortunate in that we've had the same sort of response, people saying the same thing. They like it, they think it's a good album.
ST: Yes, we've had some great responses from people who have heard it at various stages. Also, people on a comparable basis to us who have had more success like Dave Morgan and Richard Tandy really like it.
PH: Richard Tandy phoned me up to say he really liked "Sunset In The Morning". I'm really chuffed that the people in America are 'getting' the music as well. They're not quite sure whether it's an American band or an English band so that's a good thing that maybe we can cross over. People are listening to it and then they are listening to it again and hearing something different every time! I've had a lot of people say that through Facebook and wmhmusic.com ... the interesting thing is that what we meant to do was to make the songs interesting and that's the feedback we are getting. Every time that they listen they are finding another guitar or a keyboard! Also the tunes are sticking in their heads. When you get feedback like that, you think to yourself: "Maybe it's working!"
PR: Yes, we're getting good feedback from other musicians. That's good.
KJS: Phil, I was moved to hear how so very proud you are of your father and “Poparama” is dedicated to him. Can you fill us in with the story of this special man?
PH: My dad passed away five years ago and during the Second World War he was a Royal Naval Commando. And very brave men they were. Only six of them got back from Elbe. My dad was injured and one of the lucky six who got back. Over the years he never used to speak about his time in the war but over the last ten or fifteen years of his life he got back together with the six that returned and they had an association that's finished now because unfortunately they've all passed away. We thought we'd put another song up this November 11th on our web site in support of the Poppy Appeal as last year we got some good coverage in the media here in Birmingham for what we were doing for the appeal. Which is trying to raise money for these brave men who've sacrificed so much.
PR: The guys in those situations don't actually talk about it much. My dad didn't speak about it much at all. He was in the RAF in India during the war. One of my uncles came back ... he was at Arnhem and on the beaches at Dunkerque. Again, it was very rare they spoke about such things. We forget they were a lot younger than we are now. They went through an awful lot. The guys still are.
PH: We're just helping and remembering them.
KJS: Steve and Phil, For me; Brian Connolly was a much under-rated musician and lacked the confidence his talent deserved. Please do tell me about your time working with BC on the road?
ST: How long have you got! It was a great experience because we were relatively young then. It was an eye opener to what it's like at the top level of fame, for the music business really!
PR: Yeah, and what a tough gruel touring can be - as well as fun! But there's lot of hard work there, people don't see what's behind the scenes.
ST: And of course everybody knows that Brian wasn't in the greatest of health when he started 'The New Sweet' or 'BC Sweet' . And of course Phil was the first drummer he had after the demise of the original 'The Sweet' and then we got involved about three months later - that's me and Gary Farmer, the bass player - and it was totally up and down. We'd be having great times one day and the next day would be absolutely dreadful either because of Brian's health or his moods or whatever.
PR: Yeah, and at the same time you tend to remember mainly the good times. Then you can remember we had some great fun! Like the one time in that Berlin hotel we told you about when we last met. We were moving things from one room to another for whatever reason. The roadie was going to sleep on a mattress in my room. Brian saw us all moving stuff about and the next thing we know, he's bringing in lampshades and he's dancing up and down the corridor and then he came in the room wearing the lampshade as a hat! When he joined in doing stuff like that, it was brilliant.
ST: And then there was the time he decided to become the chef when we were in a restaurant in Germany. It was his birthday. I think he was 44 or something like that. He decided to go into the kitchen and came out with the chef's hat on and the whole white gown and everything! He then started serving meals to everyone - that was that kind of guy when he was on form. He could be absolutely hilarious. And then the next day he could be in the absolute depths of depression. But I think what you started the question off with Keith was that underneath it all he was quite an insecure guy. Because of the fame and notoriety he'd experienced, he sort of put on a shell ... a mask ... but underneath I think he was a really nice guy, when you actually got through to the real man. He was a very talented bloke and a nice bloke as well. There's a taste of 'The Sweet' on some of the quicker tracks for sure that will interest all those 'Sweet' fans out there.
KJS: The inevitable question that always surrounds the release of an album is: “When are you guys touring or playing live?” – so what are the gigging plans for WMH?
PR: We're looking at getting other guys involved to actually do it but we've just got to work out in our way who is going to play what. Steve has obviously done a lot of the keyboards and guitars and he can't physically play both!
ST: I could try. I've done it before - very badly! Yes, I think what we're going to do at the moment is gauge what is going to happen when people start buying the album. Obviously then, If there is a demand or need for us to go out and actually start gigging, then we'll go through all the rigours of rehearsing and get other people involved. It's got to be a six piece band to reproduce "Poparama" to anywhere near to the standard of the recording s or anywhere close to it. We've got to do it justice!
PR: We wouldn't want to do it exactly the same as that will be the whole point of doing a live show.
PH: It would take a few weeks to knock a live band into shape but we could go out there and do it for them. If they want us to do it live, we'll be doing it for them. We've done loads of live gigs in our time - myself not for a few years - but Steve and Phil have. Yes, we look forward to going out and playing to people. If they ask us to, we're more than willing to come and play for them in their living rooms!
KJS: Regular visitors to 'ELO Beatles Forever' will doubtless expect a question or two in relation to your work with Jeff Lynne. Has Jeff provided any influence or guidance in the construction of the production or songs for the album - has he heard it?
PH: Yes, Jeff has heard a few of the tracks. He has mentioned that he like a couple of the tracks on there. You're bound to be influenced in some ways when you are working with and for someone like Jeff Lynne. I was Jeff's P.A. for quite a few years and I worked on a lot of recordings that Jeff made. George Harrison's "Cloud Nine", Roy Orbison's "Mystery Girl", both Traveling Wilburys albums, Del Shannon and Julianna Raye. Then again at the end there was The Beatles "Anthology" when Jeff produced "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love". The more recording you do and wherever you work, in a factory for instance, and you are working with the best tool maker, you're bound to pick something up from them. And hopefully we've learned something from Jeff. So when you are together doing your own recordings, you try and make it as good as people who are listening to it would like. As all the greats do, they keep working at it until it's just right. Whether it's the melody or it's the instrumentals - it has got to be just right before they let it out. And you learn all these things as you go along. And of course, when you're working with Jeff Lynne - who is one of the greatest, gifted musicians, producers, arrangers and vocalists - you've got to be very lucky; and a lovely bloke he is too.
KJS: You all go back quite a way in your lives before 'WelshMansHill' with the likes of Jeff Lynne; Brian Connolly and not a few others! But what was the absolute highlight of your music careers - if you had to pick one?
ST: Mine was when we did an album with a band called 'Blackfoot Sue' and we rehearsed for eight or ten weeks to showcase this album. We did a gig at 'The Astoria' in London in 1996 or 1997 and it was probably the best gig I ever did in terms of just the playing and the overall feeling when you come off stage. The buzz. I suppose the second one was a couple of festivals we did with 'BC Sweet' including over in Denmark at the Esbjerg festival, which was superb. A beautiful Summers day with about 40,000 people which was absolutely amazing ... better than sex!
PR: I can't actually think of just the one. Certainly some of the gigs with Brian. I did a couple of things working with some guys doing a David Bowie tribute band called 'Jean Genie'. We did a couple of great gigs at 'The Point' and the 'Olympia Theatre' in Dublin. I did a gig in Gibraltar with a band I was involved with called 'Ghost' - that was a great gig!
PH: I'd say there were a couple actually ... singing backing vocals with George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, all these greats. That to me has been the highlight. I was very lucky to be able to do that and that is a real highlight for me.
KJS: Next - a question I always ask next when ‘interviewing’ for ELOBF: What are your personal favourite ELO tracks?
PR: There's a lot to choose from! Probably two that stand out for me personally. I like "Wild West Hero" because the arrangement, the orchestration and the thing that are going on in that song production wise and I think also the 'B' side to "Livin' Thing" which was "Fire On High" - which when it came out, I was young and thought it was stand alone at that time. It's hard! Not forgetting some of the later stuff with the Wilburys too.
ST: In terms of ELO material, I've got to go with "Mr. Blue Sky" even though I'm an Aston Vanilla fan! A great production and great song.
PH: It's a really difficult one for me, Keith! Going back from Jeff's first ELO album right up to his solo albums, but if you're talking about just ELO then "Midnight Blue" is a beautiful song - no doubt about that. And you've also got "Can't Get It Out Of My Head" - another great song - and I suppose "Strange Magic" has got to be up there - one of the best. But Jeff has done so many I couldn't really say! I could change my mind. And you know the great thing about it all? He writes it all; he produces it all and he arranges it all until he gets it just right. All that music. He's one of the best in the world - no doubt about it.
Graham Struggles: "Wild West Hero". Everybody wants to be a wild west hero. A good story song as much as anything.
KJS: I love "Can't Get It Out Of My Head" ... I love the imagery of "Eldorado" and "Time". But that and "21st Century Man" - just fantastic imagery and mood. On another day you could pick another album and many other ELO songs as your fave!
PH: And not forgetting "Lift Me Up" from "Armchair Theatre"!
KJS: You have kindly made some tracks on “Poparama” available for free download; and this has raised the bands profile somewhat. But please tell us about the ‘official’ release of “Poparama”. When can we expect to purchase the CD?
PR: It's available from our web site at wmhmusic.com - so by the time this interview goes out; folks will be able to buy a copy as a CD or as a download via iTunes or amazon MP3.
KJS: I would just like to thank all four of you now for participating in this interview for ELO Beatles Forever - a little known blog in deepest; darkest Wolverhampton - signing off!
To summarize, you can buy "Poparama" by WelshMansHill as a CD from their web site or as a download from iTunesamazon.co.uk or amazon.com. Here are the appropriate links for you to peruse and shop at your leisure and sonic pleasure thus:

wmhmusic.com   iTunes
amazon.co.uk   amazon.com

ELO Beatles Forever [ELOBF] recommends "Poparama" by WelshMansHill to those enlightened folks who enjoy the music of ELOJeff LynneThe MoveRoy WoodThe Idle Race'Brum Beat'The Beatles and related artistes.

Until next "Time" in the ELO [and related] Universe ... KJS ... 13-Nov-2011

1 comment:

  1. Nice interview...love Welshmanshill..looking forward to listening to this amazing ablum. Thanks for share this with the world.

    ReplyDelete