Great to read a interview with one of those people that usually miss out on the attention from music journalists. So, for once, a drummer claims the spotlight in this interview with Vivien Goldman. Miss Goldman is known as the “punk professor” but have written several books on reggae. Still only 62 years old, she lives in New York and have her own web-page for those of you who want to check her out a little more: http://viviengoldman.com/
Can a White man sing…..?
Alan White shows Vivien Goldman where you put the vegetables if you want to make a solo album.
`Now tell me honestly, what did you really expect when you came to meet me?` The disarming question is posed as yet another Yes album hits the turntable, placed thereon by the toughened hands of Alan White, drummer in officio to Yes themselves.
Well, pal, you`ve got me there. At the time you asked me my mind went completely blank; I think basically I`d had no preconceptions about you, but in retrospect perhaps someone a little more – errrum – pretentious, and shall we say, humourless?
Because try as I might to `get into Yes`, those adjectives recur with alarming frequency.
Heavens be thanked, Alan White is another kettle of seafood entirely, being as he is a charming, mellowed-out individual with an endearing capacity of respecting the fact that you don`t dig his band, although you do dig him. Fair enough, old thing?
But each to his own, and as my papa used to say, if we all liked the same things what a dreary place the global village would be.
It don`t worry Alan none, firstly because I`m sure he`s doing very nicely thank you, what with Yes being the second-biggest selling band in the whole of South America and all that, and secondly he digs them and that`s what really matters. To elaborate in his own words, “I believe in music that Yes play, and I never get bored playing with them. That`s the whole thing about Yes music, it always keeps you interested. I`ve been playing with them since 1972 and I find Yes as incredible now as I did then.”
Can`t say fairer than that, what?
So how did you get involved with them in the first place?
“I was on tour with Joe Cocker in Europe, on the same tour with Chris Stainton`s All-Stars, and I got a phone call saying the band wanted me to join them.”
That was rather flattering surely? I meantasay, Yes weren`t exactly peanuts in 1972 either.
That aspect of things doesn`t seem to have occured to Al – he looks bewildered for a moment. “Yes, I suppose it was kind of flattering in a way, they did pick up on my playing just from hearing me on records, but it was a split decision in a way.
“I didn`t really know whether I wanted to join a band like that – a progressive band, I mean. I`d always been happy just playing the way I was, with musicians I enjoyed playing with. And the music I was playing was usually a funky kinda thing. But it was a challenge, playing with Yes.
“It took me about a year to learn to play with the band, like something always moving forward with your instrument, learning to develop the sound in a certain way, and still keeping the basic roots of your instrument in the music. It really works now.
“You`ve got to remember that I`d been very ignorant that Yes were ever around in the first days. I remember when I used to play with Terry Reid in the way, way back days I heard an album, and was very interested in the kind of things Yes were up to.
“I was living with Eddie Offord, who was Yes` producer, in London, for about a year. I never actually met them, though I went down the studios to hear them a couple of times.”
Was it very difficult to fit into such a tight unit? For example, everybody knows, that Yes are ardent vegetarians. Was there any conflict there?
“None at all, because I was a vegetarian before I ever joined up with Yes. Eddie Offord was the guy who turned Yes onto vegetarianism, and he got me into it at the same time. I feel much better for it as well. Steve Howe`s probably going to stop eating dairy foods as well… there`s a lot of energy in the band that I think comes out of their vegetarian attitude, the band can communicate on a much higher level because of it.
“If most people thought about what they were putting into their bodies (shudders with disgust/distaste) I agree with you, though, the self-discipline on its own has a lot to do with it. Steve Howe and myself own a health food shop, y`know, in Hampstead High Street, the one with the bear on the front window, Brownies`.”
Great, does that mean I get a discount? (“No.”)
The point of all this pleasant social intercourse is (yup, you`ve guessed it, isn`t it always?) Alan`s new Solo Album. It`s called `Ramshackle` and is released on the Atlantic label.
“It`s an enjoyable little collection, with a spot of this and a spot of that gracing the black wax (vinyl, actually). There`s a touch of soul, a touch of funk, a touch of Yes-ian acrobatics, and even a Touch Of Reggae. That`s not so unusual these days, but more on that point later.
And by the way, weren`t you always noted as a funk/soul drummer all through your days with Griffon (“NOT to be confused with Gryphon,” Alan points out with a delicate combination of anxiety and boredom)?
Alan comments modestly, “If you count soul as swinging and playing in 5/4 time and yet funky, I suppose I might be. But there`s a load of different things on the album, the numbers change from number to number. (Yes, he really did put it like that, but who can blame him? I mean, after a while you get tired of scrabbling around for other words that means the same as `number`.)
“I tried to get a lot of different kinds of music on the album because I like playing lots of different kinds of music.”
Does that indicate that within Yes you`ve generally got to play the same kind of music?
“Not at all, because within Yes you can express your feelings of doing something nobody`s ever done, we`re always trying to see round the corner or over the hill, trying to take your particular instrument in a new direction. It`s quite simple, I just made an album of music I really enjoyed playing with a good band.
“It`s really a drummer in a band`s album, rather than a Yes solo album. The band on the album is the kind I`ve been associated with for the past four or five years, we were all in Griffon together.”
So tell us summat about these lads, then.
The keyboards player (Kenny Craddock) came from Lindisfarne, he`s not doing too much now, sessions mostly. The guitar player`s (Peter Kirtley) last band was called Riff Raff, and he was involved with Carol Grimes for a while. Basically they`re all really good musicians that are trying to find their hole… the bassist (Colin Gibson) plays with Snafu.
“They`re all really good friends of mine from up North. I come from Durham City. Why the accent? (a strange hybrid of Northern English and L.A.) My girlfriend comes from America and we`ve been together for a few years, and I`ve spent lots of time over there anyway. EVERYONE asks me that!” (despairing) You win some, you lose some, I guess.”
So will there be any special Alan White Band gigs to help promote `Ramshackle`?
“Unfortunately I don`t have time to gig with the band because of Yes` commitments, we`re pretty committed for the whole of next year, in fact.
“But there is talk of a Yes gig sometime with everyone doing some numbers from each of their solo albums at the end of the show – this is the third solo album from the five of us, Y`know – it would be nice, but I don`t know whether it`ll happen.
“I was having a good time living out a lot of memories from the past and really enjoying myself, believing in a certain type of music that was conceived over a number of years. I finally had the chance to let it come out to the public, and this was the first opportunity I`d had.
“It has been an ache for a few years, but Yes is my first commitment right now. In fact, at the end of the album, I really needed to get back to Yes, to the adventurous kind of music that Yes play. I`m really very happily surprised perhaps at the amount of good reaction to my album, especially as it hasn`t stuck as closely to the Yes format as Steve`s (Howe) or Chris`s (Squire).”
Do you think the drums are very differently positioned, much more prominent than they would have been had it been a Yes album?
“I`ve been told they are more prominent, but I didn`t put them there! (laughs). The person who brought them out was the engineer/producer, Bob Potter, he`s a good friend of mine, used to do the Grease Band. People usually complain that the drums aren`t loud enough on Yes records.
“One of my faults is that I always listen to the drums first, and then up through the music to the singer. But through producing an album you learn to listen to the whole unit much better. I`m not finding that I play differently now, but I`m more aware of the role drums play in a band now.
“Usually when we`re producing a Yes album there`s five pairs of hands controlling exactly what they hear their own instrument doing and putting it onto the record, and sometimes it gets all cluttered and squashed in. But through each member doing solo albums, I think that when it comes to the next album, which we`re rehearsing right now, everyone`s gonna sit back a little more, and see their own position in the music much better, it won`t be as cluttered.”
Let`s get back to album specifics for a moment. That reggae track, `Silly Woman`, how come that got on the album?
“They wanted to release that as the single, y`know, but I wouldn`t let them do it because it`s too obvious, I didn`t do it because it was in vogue. It was really because I`d spent the last two Christmases in Jamaica and really enjoyed the music, and a song came up that was appropriate for the reggae rhythm. It`s a white reggae, really.”
Did you design these macho lyrics deliberately to fit in with the reggae?
“Ahh you silly woman I`m beginning to believe you can`t even see. Why aren`t you here next to me. I don`t want to mock you. I know you`re running to be free, it`s just the way you`ve been carrying on I ought to put you across my knee.”
“No, they`re just a bit of fun! I didn`t write any of the lyrics, I`m not a lyricist in any way. The guy actually wrote it from personal experience (launches into an involved and highly personal story of love, betrayal, to-ing and fro-ing in young couples, winding up with `so we can`t play it when that chick`s around because it`s about the other chick.` Got that?).
And how about the `Song Of Innocence` track, taken from the poem of the same name by Wm. Blake?
“I`m not as clued in on Blake as some people but I do like him very much, I`ve read his biography and a couple of books about him. His pictures drive me round the bend (grins enthusiastically) they`re fantastic, the colours, the themes…”
And talking of pictures, how about the rather risque offering on the inner sleeve? It`s an old geezer whose visage is composed entirely of naked female bodies.
“Oh, he`s a 77-year old artist I`ve known for a long time. The original version from the 50`s is on the label, look. I own the copyright on the new one, you see he did it slightly differently. He came down to the studio and really enjoyed the music we were making, he doesn`t like knocking around with old people too much… that poem on the back of the sleeve, that`s by a poet called Tom Pickard, he`s a guy from Newcastle that everyone`s known for a long time.”
As Alan genially led me to the door of his manager`s plush golden office, we were standing on the gi-normous carpet in the shape of the Yes logo (pretty shprauntsy, that one), and was studying the pencil drawing of Alan on the white sleeve. It doesn`t look much like you, I commented (it doesn`t).
“You`re right,” said Alan, with a pleased grin, and quipped, it doesn`t really matter, does it – all that matters is what`s on the vinyl!” And on that heartfelt note, I took my leave.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Evelyn Thomas & Ian Levine, Shaun Cassidy, Jimmy Page, Cate Brothers, Julie Tippetts, Adam Faith, Pat Travers, Deep Purple, Jesse Winchester, Phil Collins.
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