30 June 2010

(More than) 10 Questions with...Alan Reed

I became introduced to Alan Reed’s work, as so many people have been, through his albums with Pallas. His vocals on the band’s post-Sentinel studio albums (The Wedge, Beat the Drum, The Cross and the Crucible, The Dreams of Men) are distinctive and powerful, and every bit an identifying part of what made the Pallas sound uniquely Pallas following the departure of Euan Lowson after the tour for The Sentinel.

Older progressive music fans know that this was not Alan’s first foray in music, however, Reed first took the stage as singer for the band Abel Ganz, providing lead vocals on their 1984 debut album Gratuitous Flesh. It was, in fact, a live gig with this band (at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Festival) that brought him to the attention of a lead singer needing Pallas. Alan has since revisited his time in Abel Ganz, guesting on that band’s latest album, Shooting Albatross.

This is not the only guest spot Alan’s shown up for recently. The past few years have seen him as a featured guest/cast member/vocalist on Clive Nolan’s Caamora album and stage show, recreating the classic Henry Rider Haggard novel She: A History of Adventure. This project saw Reed gracing the stage in Poland and Bolivia, playing the part of Horace Holly from the original novel. He’s also been a guest vocalist on another Nolan project, NEO, as well as sharing vocal duties on RPWL bassist Chris Postl’s Parzivals Eye project with fellow Caamora cast mate Christina Booth (of Magenta).

January 2010 saw a bit of a shock, as Reed announced through Facebook his immediate departure from Pallas, the band he had been lead vocalist for since 1985-1986. The split between band and singer was less than pleasant, but this gave Reed an opportunity to spread his wings musically and begin work on his debut solo album. While he’s still in the process of recording new music, a first sampling of his solo work will be available on the cover CD for Classic Rock Presents Prog magazine, as well as on the Emerson Lake and Palmer tribute CD The Endless Enigma. I thought this would be a great time to sit down with Alan and discuss some of his past, his present, and the possibilities for the future.

1) Could you share with us a little bit about how you got started in music

The usual. I badgered my parents into buying me a guitar for my 15th birthday. I quickly found myself gravitating towards bass - partly 'cause it seemed like it'd be less competitive to get into a band, but also 'cause I'd discovered Rush!!! Was in various school bands as both a bassist and singer, and decided it was what I most wanted to do in the world. Spent most of my time at university looking for 'the' band, and eventually blundered into first Abel Ganz, then Pallas.

2) Your 'day job' has you involved with BBC News. Is it difficult at all to 'shut off' at the end of the day and get into a musical mindset?

They don't really cross over in that way. My work in News is pretty full-on, but I work a smaller number of very long shifts, so I have more days off that I can concentrate on music. They're similar in that both journalism and music require my complete attention, so I tend to keep them separate. It's a balance that works for me.

3) The past several years have seen you very busy with a variety of projects...Caamora, Neo, Parzivals Eye among them. Have any of these projects affected how you would like your music to move forward?

Not really, other than it allowed me to play with and get to know a wider range of talented musicians than I might otherwise have done. I mostly did them out of curiousity - and at a time when my then band was relatively inactive (almost moribund). I generally only get involved in such projects cause I think the people will be fun to work with or I'll learn something from the process. Caamora was something a little different from what I'd previously done - and it certainly stretched me as a singer. NEO never really developed into the project that all of us had hoped for, and was overtaken by the needs of our individual bands. Parzival's Eye might still develop further.

At the moment my priority is finding out what my own voice sounds like after all this time as part of a distinctive group identity. I'm content to plough my own furrow for a bit and see what comes out, rather than subsume myself in someone else's project.

4) Caamora was a huge project, both musically and from a staging standpoint. What was it like taking part in something of such scale?

Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. My initial involvement in the album was relatively straightforward. Clive asked me if I'd sing one of the male character parts, and after hearing the demos I was keen to give it a go. His original invitation to 'sing two or three songs' turned into a much more demanding barrage of harmony and choral parts which needed a much more disciplined approach than you can usually get away with as a lead singer. The DVD recording in Poland was also a real challenge, with a disparate band of musicians, a choir and minimal rehearsal time. I'm amazed we managed to do it.

The real biggie was Bolivia though. Singers and musicians from the UK, Poland, Chile, USA, Bolivia, a string section, a 16-piece choir, 9 dancers, costumes, a full stage set and complex lighting effects.. at times it felt like we were heading towards a Rick Wakeman style 'Arthur on ice' kind of fiasco. But again, the shows were terrific. It was more theatre than rock in the end, but I feel honoured to have been part of such an imaginative and demanding show. And I got to go to South America to do it, meeting some lovely people in the process.

5) What would you say is the release you have been proudest of being involved in to date?

It's hard to answer that question right now because obviously my views are coloured by the unpleasant events of earlier this year. As an album, I'd probably say that The Cross and the Crucible is the most cohesive album I've been involved in. My best singing on record is probably either 'The Last Angel' from The Dreams of Men or maybe 'Signs' from the Paarzival's Eye album. But 'Proud' isn't a word I feel that comfortable with right now.

6) Over the years you've played hundreds of concerts all over the world. Are there any that stick out in your mind as particularly memorable?

I have loads of fragmentary memories from all sorts of gigs, but I think the first time Pallas played outside the UK at the Paradiso in Amsterdam is a particularly fond memory. The place was packed and they just went mental. We weren't sure people had even really heard of us outside the UK at that point. How wrong we were. The ones where things have gone wrong also tend to stick in the mind - like when I got caught between two sets of thunder flashes on a smaller than usual stage, and when they went off it looked like I'd exploded (nasty powder burns by the way). Or when our stage set caught fire at a gig at the Music Hall in Aberdeen. Oil had been leaking from a smoke machine and the pyros (them again) set it on fire. It was quite amusing watching Mike Stobbie (who was playing keys at the time) trying to put out the flames with his feet while he kept playing. Then a pile of roadies rushed out with fire extinguishers!!!!

7) You've just announced the release of your first solo recording, a cover of ELP's 'C'est La Vie.' How did you come to choose that track?

I knew how to play it!!! I first came across ELP as a teenager, when a music TV show here did a special on the 'Works' tour with the orchestra. It was one of the tracks played and I just loved it and worked out a version on 12-string. When I found out about the 'Prog' magazine ELP tribute CD, I remembered how much I'd loved it, so I half-jokingly offered to record it if they had any space left on the album. The editor got straight back and said that if I could get it to them within the week, then it had every chance of being included. I'm really pleased with how it's turned out. Obviously I sound nothing like Greg Lake, but I think I've managed to hold on to the atmosphere of the song and add a bit of myself to it too. Oddly enough it sort of fits with the thrust of some of the stuff I'm working on at the moment, and it's given me an unexpectedly early opportunity to launch myself as a solo artist!!

8) Mike Stobbie is contributing piano on the ELP cover; is he also featured on your forthcoming album?

ALAN: Mike is the first person I turned to for help once I'd decided to try and do a solo album. Apart from being a shit-hot keyboard player, he's also a talented producer who works a lot in the pop and musical theatre worlds. I knew he'd have both the personal sympathy and technical expertise to help me make my demos into something much more polished and listenable. We're working bit by bit in his home studio whenever we can, and will be going elsewhere to record the noisier stuff like drums. Actually I'm hoping to get the first batch of drum tracks done very soon.

9) How would you describe the musical direction you're currently following?

Not really sure how to describe it. I suppose what I've put on my Myspace site sums it up most accurately: - 'Sensitive, acoustically-driven music with a prog twist'. Some of the tracks are almost singer-songwriter affairs based around nylon or 12-string guitar parts. Some are more traditional band type arrangements. There's definitely a Celtic-folk twinge to some of it. It'll certainly sound a bit different from my former band.

10) Are there any teasers you can offer up to whet the readers' appetites?

Well, I'm wearing a silk blouse and suspenders…and it's such a hot day!!! Is that what you meant?

There are a couple of rough demos on my last.fm page http://www.last.fm/music/Alan+Reed

and an earlier version of one of the tracks on MYSPACE : http://www.myspace.com/pallastherockband

I've been posting short video studio diaries on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alan-Reed/364663774275?ref=ts

This is where I tend to update most. I'll probably set up a proper website at some point.

11) Do you have any ETA on when your solo debut will be coming out? Will you be releasing it on your own or will there be a label involved?

Realistically I'm looking at spring of 2011. There's a lot do to, and it'll take time to get done working around both my and Mike's availability - not to mention that of other people. I haven't sorted out any release arrangements yet. I wanted to have something concrete to show people before I went down that road. But I'm about to reach that point shortly.

12) Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

I've been genuinely stunned by the warmth and concern shown by so many people over the developments of the past few months. Rest assured I intend to continue, and hope my efforts meet with your approval. It's a bit scary being on my own after all these years, but I'll do my best to live up to the faith that so many have shown in me. My heartfelt thanks.

(Lead photo: Alan Reed live at NEARfest 2004. Photo by Bill Knispel.)

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