After the album review, the interview !!! We catch up with Henry Priestman and Les Glover ahead of their launch gigs of their joint LP.
You were both in bands prior to becoming solo artists. Could you shed a bit more light on when and why you both went down the solo route ?
Henry: My going solo was a complete accident…I was quite happy doing bits of co-writing, songwriting for others, some production work and the odd slice of music for TV/Ads, then in 2007 I met up with co-writer Tom Gilbert.
I thought we were going to be writing songs for other people, but it became apparent after the first song we wrote (called “Old”), that he expected me to sing the song(s), and despite my pleas of “I can’t sing, I’ve not sung lead for 27 years”[since Yachts], he cajoled (or maybe bullied) me into it…and thank the lord he did. Once we’d finished “Old”, the songs just flew out; instead of trying to write hits (which I’d been attempting, with no success, for over 10 years) I was writing about my own life, being a 53 year old, and all that that entails…”songs for grumpy old men” as Johnnie Walker kindly described it when he heard the album. Once we had the “blueprint” for the sort of songs we were after, we then got the whole of my first solo album (The Chronicles of Modern Life”) written over a three week period!
Les: I hate to say this but I think being in bands is a bit of a young man’s game. As you get older I think you tire of the diplomacy and the juggling of egos required in a band, there’s also the fact that your need to succeed is more a need to suck Mints (or Werther’s Originals). Plus you don’t want to lug the heavy and loud amps required in a band and therefore conserving what hearing you have left. A laissez-faire outlook is the future I think.
You have both been playing / working together for several years now, how did you two actually meet ? And secondly when did you realise you worked well as a duo?
Henry: As Les will no doubt explain in great detail (and perhaps a tear or two!), we initially met in 1979 when I was in Yachts, and we were supporting XTC at The Manchester Apollo. There was a pub next door to the theatre, and we (Yachts) were having a drink there in the afternoon, before soundcheck.
Les (who was a big Yachts fan) had arrived early at the venue, and bumped into us in the pub, even spent a couple of hours with us, chatting away (and has his signed Yachts single to prove it)….and to my shame, I cannot remember this episode (I need to check my diary for that day, in case it says that “an annoying little 16 year old brat kept bothering us all afternoon”).
Les’s son Alex (who’d loved my Chronicles album) had said to Les that he’d like to come and see us in concert, so they came to a gig, and we chatted after it (even went for a drink…which I DO remember!), and Les mentioned he was a guitarist (so I checked him out on youtube).
I’d been playing gigs totally solo for a couple of years, but was getting to the point of thinking I’d like someone else onstage with me (it gets lonely up there on your own!), so Les and I met up and had a practice together…well, when he started playing a few Yachts songs, that was it, he was IN!!
I’d initially thought that I’d carry on mainly solo, but use Les for the odd “prestige” gig (ie London, or a festival), but after we did a housegig together, and had such fun (realising we shared musical tastes, the same sense of humour…and a brain!), I decided that we should try and do all my gigs as a duo.
Les: We actually met 40 years ago on the afternoon of a Yachts gig in Manchester (supporting XTC) but Henry doesn’t remember me! Then at a Deaf School gig in 2010, but the first time he saw me play was at a festival in Anglesey maybe 2012 and we got together a few months after that. I think we clicked around the time of the Settle concert video. Even though we take our songwriting very seriously your onstage persona doesn’t have to be because essentially, you are there to entertain and to send people away with a lighter heart and a smile.
The new album is credited to you both with an even number of songs from each of you. Any fight stories on who should get more songs on the record ?
Henry: No, the opposite actually…indeed at one point Les was pushing to get me to maybe put an extra track on, call it a “Baker’s Dozen” (his suggestion was to include my song “The Coolest Dance is the Irish Jig”, which is a live favourite), and I in turn suggested we put on Les’s beautiful “Cancelling Christmas” that he released on download last Christmas…in the end, having settled on the title “6 of One and Half a Dozen of the Other” it seemed right and proper to stick with 6 apiece (as it says on the tin!).
Les: The only song I fought for was one of Henry’s ha ha. Being a massive Yachts fan I insisted on Love You Love You, because it’s often in the live set, but Henry wasn’t so sure. I’m glad I got my way because Mark Kermode, another massive Yachts fan, agreed to play on it. Apart from that we were pretty much in agreement. We both had other songs but these songs, though varied in style, seemed to make for a more cohesive album.
You both seem to be relishing operating under the radar and when checking your calendar, your schedule is full of housegigs and songwriting workshops. Is proximity with your audience something important for you ? Henry, could you tell us how it compares with your days playing with The Christians ?
Henry: “Under the radar” is a good way to describe it; nothing to do with the music business at all, really (this album is being released on our own label, and I book all our gigs), and all the more enjoyable for that.
Yes, we relish being close to the audience, indeed I think I sometimes annoy promoters (and occasionally the audience too!) by asking if we can have the lights in the auditorium just a bit brighter, as we bounce of the audience an incredible amount, and need to see their faces…if we see they’re having a good time it spurs us on.
Re how it compares to playing the “Enormodomes” we once played with The Christians, there’s no comparison…with Les, I’m having more fun at gigs than I’ve ever done, and I was quoted the other year in the Liverpool Echo the other year as saying “Wembley Arena?..I’d rather play Thornton Hough Village Club” (capacity 100)….needless to say I’ve gone down well at Thornton Hough ever since!
Les: I love being close to the audience because I like to treat them as an extended family, and by the end of the night they usually are. We once did a gig at Sheffield City Hall to 2000 people and we could only see the first five rows, so you play to them as you would a house gig and it’s often infectious to those further back anyway.
You seem to not take yourselves too seriously as performers but all your records are very carefully crafted, what is your principal aim when writing songs and recording them ?
Henry: Yes, because we have such fun (sometimes verging on chaos and mayhem!) at gigs, it perhaps might occasionally detract from the sentiment of some songs…that said, whenever we are doing a more sensitive/poignant song we might have a bit of a laugh with the in-between banter, but it’s a serious business once the song starts.
With this in mind I’m extremely aware of trying to keep up the standard of the recordings I work on (I said in an interview the other day that when I’m in the studio, more often than not on my own, I think I’m Brian Wilson…but then I listen back the next day and realise I’m not!), but that doesn’t stop me from trying to make as good a sounding album as possible.
It’s all down to the songs, and with this album I knew Les’s 6 songs were all killer, as I’d been hearing him play the odd one at gigs, so I knew I had to make sure mine were up to standard too.
It was Les’s idea to do this project of a joint album, and for me, as well as it giving me the opportunity to show off a few new songs, it’s also enabled me to revisit a couple of songs from my past (a new re-lyric-ed version of The Christians’ “Forgotten Town”, and Yachts’ 1979 single “Love You Love You”) that we do live in the set (and with Les being such a big Yachts fan, he was right behind it.)
Les: I think our principal aim is to make every line of a song count and not use cliches or filler lines. It may not always work but we try. We are also both suckers for a good melody.
Les, Henry often describes you as his “minder”, could you possibly give us a full description of what this role entails :) ? Henry, Les in return describes you as his musical mentor, could you give a thorough account of how you enlightened Les with your wisdom and musical craft :) ?
Henry: Actually, at gigs, Les refers to himself as my “carer”..adding that he won’t do toilet duties..yet!
When I first met Les he was doing mainly cover versions in his set, so I wasn’t aware of his songwriting prowess. He started playing me a few songs of his, they were good, some were great, and we decided that I’d record an EP for him…then over the next month or so, he went into a writing frenzy, came up with more GREAT songs, at least half of what turned out to be his first album (The Love Terrorist”), and we realised that an LP (as we call ‘em) and not an EP was what was needed….and he’s even got over 20 songs written for his next album (it’ll have to be a double).
I do love working as a producer, especially when you’re working with someone who’s on the same wavelength as me, as Les is…eg I’ll ring him and say “I’m sending you the new track,but beware, I’ve sped it up 6 bpm, changed the intro, and I’ve added mariachi trumpet to it…you’ll probably hate it”…but he never does. Yes, we work well together.
Les: Yes I very much have taken on a caring role with Henry (with the exception of toileting duties, which, given his ripe old age, is just a matter of time ha ha). No seriously though, we have lots of love and respect and just look out for each other and have become part of each others families and if that’s a crime sue us! We will of course eventually move towards a Hen and Les Care Home franchise but that’s a future adventure.
Les and Henry will be playing the following dates as part of the launch of their album:
24/11/17: Hull, Kardomah94 (tickets)
25/11/17: St Helens, Lucem House (tickets)
26/11/17: Liverpool. Eighty One Renshaw (tickets)