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HENRY PRIESTMAN: "The Last Mad Surge Of Youth"
HENRY PRIESTMAN - - formerly of Yachts (70s) and The Christians (80s), in fact, the man wrote every song on a triple platinum selling album, and almost every song on its U.K. number one follow-up with the latter act. Priestman produced a solo album for Take That's Mark Owen, and his debut solo album, 'Chronicles of Modern Life' (2008), became a proper success when it got bought for major re-release by Island Records making him the oldest artist to be signed by a major label for a debut solo album. The follow-up to that debut, 'The Last Mad Surge of Youth', ready for release next month and yours truly wrote the "glowing" review and it's basically grumpy old (white) men music in the vein of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and the darn right wicked hint of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Find out more about the album, here's the man of the moment: Henry Priestman
How has the reaction to your latest CD been?
Unbelievable so far, far better than I could ever have hoped for! It's early days (the album's not out for a month) but already I’ve had about 6 online reviews, all them really positive, 4 stars, even one 5 star review!... the strange thing is the websites are all representing different genres of music: a couple of folk ones, two out and out rock websites, and I've literally just heard today that the album gets 4 stars in the current "Classic Pop" magazine!.
Are you fed up already with the popular term of "music for grumpy old men"?
No, I don't use it particularly myself, but it probably served me well on the last album (my debut, "The Chronicles of Modern Life"); the media liked the term (easy to get their heads around!), it was as though I'd sort of created my own new genre and of course it was nothing like the Christians. I think Johnnie Walker on BBC Radio 2 came up with the phrase originally, and I almost owe my whole solo career to him, and his initial championing of my "Chronicles…" album, when nobody else would give it a second glance..
How long did this CD take to make from start to finish, recording-wise?
Hard to say... um, forever :-) ? No it's just that I had the album virtually finished in 2010, but soon after, my Mum died, and 11 months later my mother-in-law died, so the album was put on the back-burner. When I returned to it, it didn't seem quite right; life had got in the way, and I had different things to say due to what I'd been through. So new songs came in (more poignant ones?), and nudged out some of the others….then it was a case of working on them whenever the mood took me, rather than when a record company said so, or to try and meet a deadline.
What kind of 'sound', production wise, did you have in the back of your mind, prior to recording
I never particularly have a "sound" in my head. Having spent the last 5 years playing solo (or as a duo), in folk clubs, small art centres and the like, I knew I wanted it to be more organic, more stripped back and less "poppy" than Chronicles. I just start away recording, bashing instruments down, and the big man (or woman) upstairs (or someone!) guides me as to what to do next! But it's probably all informed by all the albums I've listened to in my life time. I've spent the last 58 years “devouring” music!.
What kind of input did your record label and various 3-piece suits have during the process?
Absoluetly NONE…. It's been a joy: I've worked on it entirely on my own with no A&R input at all, apart from the odd friend having a listen now and then. I mixed the album in August 2013, and right up till September 2013 (when I was introduced to the good people at Proper Records by a mutual friend) I fully intended to put the album out on my own label. Then Proper Records were so keen, I thought, let's give the old indy record label route one more go (‘cos I'm so bad at the business side of things!); and they’re not "suits", they’re music fans. But basically, everything was decided by me: songs, mixes, artwork, running order, video director. Luckily we all agreed on the choice of songs to go on the “promo single”. I just leave the boring technical stuff to the record company ie press/promo, manufacturing the record, and getting it out there in the shops, and reviewed… and they seem to be doing a fantastic job on those fronts.
And are you pleased with the final outcome? (sound - production wise)
When you get as close to an album as I have with this one you begin to wonder "is it any good"? I mean, apart from the odd friend coming to my studio and playing a bit of guitar or banjo (Pete Riley came for a few days, as did guitarist Jinder) I was totally on my own for probably 98% of the recording time (and I mean totally alone, no producer, no engineer, no band mates to chuck idea around with). Almost all the parts that other musicians played were performed in their own studios, then sent over the 'net to me. So when you're on your own on a project for that length of time you do go a bit mad, and start wondering whether it's all rubbish… the same happened with my first album too, incidentally. Then after it's finished you have time to forget about it a bit, and return to it with fresh ears. Just before Christmas 2013 I was able, for the first time, to listen to it objectively and go "you know what, it’s really not half bad"!... and thankfully, so far, the press reviews seem to be agreeing with me.
Did the producer (you) use any (weird) experimental miking and/or recording techniques?
I have no absolutely idea (and, if I'm honest, no interest) in what I'm doing re mic technique.. I bung a mic near the instrument (all flat eq) happy in the knowledge that when my mix engineer David Wrench gets hold of it, he'll sprinkle it with fairy dust and it'll sound amazing. I do mess around with things alot once they're in the computer, maybe turn them backwards, chop things up, move them around a bit, add the odd weird delay (and the odd interesting textures, glockenspiels especially...damn, there's my secret weapon revealed!)
There's a special "Yorkshire sound", no? Brass, horns, and stuff.
I've been making albums for 35 years, and I've NEVER used brass.. I just have never warmed to that archetypal pop/rock brass sound (brass stabs etc), at least not on my own songs. Then I realised that many of my favourite artists/albums of the last 10 years or so all contained brass, but not "yer typical" rockbrass (eg Beirut, Sufjan Stevens, Bright Eyes, The Unthanks, Belle and Sebastian, Neutral Milk Hotel etc) I thought I'd like to give it a go, a new texture for a new album. The most fun was doing the arrangements myself, which was very hit and miss, basically hitting keys until I found something I liked (I can't read a note of music, it was all done using brass samples). I was lucky enough to get the great Probyn Gregory (of the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson band) to play baritone horn and French horn on "In My Head". Then for the opening track "At The End Of The Day" I deliberately wanted a Northern brass-band type of sound, which my (Yorkshire-based) friend Tim Hutton played, and it had me in tears. So I got him to repeat the trick on "We Used to Be You"…yes, very happy with all the brass!
Any overall theme of mood/sound that you're trying to capture while writing songs?
No one central theme.. all songs are different, but whatever, I try and make them actually say something, and hopefully move people (either to tears or laughter, and all points in between).… but obviously there is a general poignancy to some of the songs on the new album due to reasons outlined above.
What's the story behind 'A Pint of Bitter and Twisted, Please'?
Strange that, of all the songs, you pick that one, which possibly of all the songs on the album has the least interesting story! :-) …actually, there's hardly a story at all, we just liked the title…. I drink bitter, and after a particularly hard day I said in the pub to the barman “A pint of bitter (& twisted) please”. My co-writer Tom was there, and we just looked at each other, and knew we had to write the song.… finished it the next day…I’m just pleased to have finally written a proper drinking song.
Do you feel it's (un)fair if people compare your new product with the 80s stuff and The Christians? (considering budget, exposure, marketing, and obviously SOUND).
There really is no comparison, just as people found it hard to compare my first band Yachts (sort of late 70's New Wave pop) with The Christians… but I like re-inventing myself (and my songs), and moving on to new pastures. Budget is interesting… as it's mostly myself and the odd mate playing on this album (a lot of bartering went on!) it didn’t cost much to record, apart from time. Where as The Christians album cost tens of thousands of pounds to record (a remix of one single might cost £8000… crazy!); but it was the 80's,that's what happened then…. then you sell a million albums and everyone assumes you're millionaires. Re the sound: again it was the 80's and that's how records sounded back then… I'm sure if The Christians were starting off now they/we wouldn’t sound the same as those old albums. Possibly they'd sound more like my albums (more organic, more space, less lush) and therefore probably wouldn’t sell a bean!
Please inform us about your fave or/worst 'The Christians' moment.
Loads of both; we all fell out pretty badly along the way, but at least I'm now back talking (or at least Facebook-ing!) to both Garry and Russell Christian.… life's too short to go on holding onto hate and grudges, and it's bad for your health. Not necessarily the best moment, but a good one: hearing that the 2nd album "Colour" had gone in at #1 in the charts (and knocked Phil Collins off the #1 spot)… mind you, he knocked us back off #1 the next week!
What if I mention the likes of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson?
I am not worthy!!.. I love them all… now they're what you call voices!.
Who are your influences and heroes? (music-wise)
Too many to mention: the usual 60's touch stones: Kinks/Beatles/Dylan/Lou/Joni/Neil/Motown etc etc, but that's just the tip of the iceberg, loads of non-mainstream stuff too like, Krautrock/Prog/Psyche/OldReggae/Sunshine Pop/Soundtracks... also, all the above I mentioned in your “brass” question…
If there's anything you'd like to add, say, please do
Very good questions! :-)
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