Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pete Williams...Dexys, Loves and Rock n' Roll

My hood, Bearwood, has been home to more than its fair share of celebrities, from Julie Walters to Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie…in fact the entire band can often be found arguing over the last pots of yoghurt – three for £1 – in Heron Foods to this very day. That’s why they keep falling out. Fact. Anyway, one Bearwood name we’re all about to see (and hear) a lot more of over the coming year is Mr Pete Williams, original bassist with the…and for once I'm not exaggerating…legendary Dexys Midnight Runners, who’s not only been recording the band’s first new album in a quarter of a century or so but has also just released his debut solo long player (long player…hey how old school am I eh?). And it’s really rather special. I was quite frankly delighted beyond belief therefore when he agreed to give an exclusive (well, pretty exclusive…it's also appeared on We Love Bearwood too) interview! So settle down, pour yourself a cup of something (tea, coffee, meths…the choice is yours):

(1) Hi Pete,your new album comes out very soon. What’s it called and when’s the release date?

It’s called “SEE” and was officially released on the 8/1/12. (EDIT: you can get it on

(2) How would you describe the album?

“A smorgasbord chaffinch of great bustard proportions, catering for those choughs of a particular arctic skua or cormorant frame of mind.” Chuck Paudermilch (Upper Gornal Pigeon fanciers and bantam breeders Gazette). So say the Press, and who’d argue with them eh?...It’s quite a personal record, my take on where I am now as a Black Country father, looking back and moving forwards, referencing places I’ve been and stuff that I’ve been through, accepting that I’m now in my fifties, learning to reach out and accept the things that bring me joy.

(3) I love the track ‘Reconsider This’. What are your favourite songs from the album and why?

Thanks for saying so, it’s hard to say, some of these songs have been with me in one form or another for many years, I do like “Are You Listening?” There’s a very light feel on it, which underlies the subject matter of my sometimes turbulent relationship with my Dad. It features trombone, clarinet and banjo with the rhythm section swinging sweet and hard! Very happy with “Black” a quick look back at my time living and starving in Santa Monica and East L.A. Richard Hawley’s guitar on this is razor sharp. My long time mate and collaborator Fred Skidmore plays overdriven Hammond organ on “Until We Empty Off This Bottle” like Ben Hur controlling his chariot.

(4) This is your debut solo release, why have you waited until now to record and release it?

Actually I released the 3 track ‘Black’ E.P. in 2005 after Mark Lamarr asked me to send him some of my music, the demo was played on Jonathan Ross’ Radio 2 show for 3 weeks running, his producer mailed me after show 2 and advised me to get a web presence quick (!) because “loads of people want to know how to get the track”. But as for SEE Dean Beresford, my drummer, suggested we visit Axis Studios in Sheffield, he had got to know Mike Timm (who produced and engineered this record ) during his work in Richard Hawley’s band.(Mike is the Live sound engineer for Richard). As soon as I met Mike I knew we would get on, he had an agile, open and experimental mind and shared our vision of the kind of record we wanted to make, he had the ideal studio space (a large oak paneled live room) and ultimately delivered it. Things then just started to fall into place, I grew to really like Sheffield and the people that I met ,they have a very understated honesty and warmth that the best Black Country people have, there’s a similar industrial past and like here, there’s no shortage of hills. I’ve been very lucky and feel extremely thankful and proud of all my friends that have helped me realise ‘SEE’.

(5) Has the current state of the music industry made it easier or harder for you to make your album?

Once we started this CD, nothing was going to stand in our way. Obviously it’s had to have been paid for, and that (through sales) has to be squared. Thankfully we managed to source the initial finances “close to home”. The “major” labels are being eaten up or merged and sold and I haven’t approached any of them with ‘SEE’. It would be good to have had a team of radio and TV pluggers, people to manage my website and online presence 24/7, competent and accurate physical and digital distribution, Art dept and all the rest that a label is supposed to provide. But in all my years having been signed to E.M.I., Warners and Island, in my experience they usually royally balls things up. I’m not saying there aren’t good people with real vision who work in the music Industry just that I haven’t met many, I have met quite a few A&R (pronounced Um and Aah?) men and industry execs who have told me candidly that they don’t really care for music, but quite like the lifestyle. It’s a different process now and the Internet and Digital distribution have changed so much, for so many. There’s so much “out there” and available which can be both a blessing and a curse. Social networking and promotion using Tweets, Facebook, You Tube and Blogs like this can’t be overlooked and are powerful promotion tools, giving fans a chance to be close to artists and bands and vice-versa.

(6) Your album launch is at the Glee Club on 21st February, what can we expect from the gig and do you prefer playing live or being in the recording studio?

I’m looking forward to our run of shows at the end of February, I’m confident these will be the best I’ve ever done. The rehearsals so far sound fantastic, it’s great to have the rocksteady Rhythm twins of Al Gare (Imelda May band) and Dean Beresford (Richard Hawley band) in the engine room driving the whole thing. I’ve played music with Fred Skidmore for close to 20 years and he just gets more exciting, expressive and surprising as a player. I’m also over the moon that Shez Sheridan (Hawley band) and Paul Taylor (Snowboy and Roberto Pla) are with us. I couldn’t wish for better personnel. I don’t want to give too much away or talk anything up but this is going to be a powerful, intimate show. I’ve always loved the recording process, witnessing a track grow. As bassist in Dexys and The Bureau, myself and Stoker (Andy Growcott, Drums) were first to record, before anything else was added the Bass and Drum rhythm track has to be ‘nailed’ if there’s a lacklustre feel there it’s not going to happen. The old adage “you can’t polish a turd” is still true, though in this age of autotune and sophisticated digital FX it’s becoming possible. Overall I prefer playing live.

(7) What was your favourite album or artist from 2011?

I saw this bloke at a great little venue The Hideout at Wishaw this summer also a few months ago at a pretty empty Yardbird I saw this bloke (now being talked up) a really lovely bloke who I chatted with after his set, great songs, he shows real promise. I’m a big Tom Waits fan and his album ‘Bad As Me’ is very good, also ‘Under Branches High’ the debut by these comes highly recommended. My friend Imelda May very kindly asked us to open for her at Nottingham Rock City and She and her band turned in an outstanding performance, they just go from strength to strength.

(8) Who or what are your musical influences?

Too many and varied to mention but here’s some in no particular order: Bowie, Jacques Brel, Lotte Lenya and Brecht/Weill, John Steinbeck, Knut Hamsun, Jacques Tati, Ludwig Van, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Augustus Pablo,Wes Montgomery, Nina Simone, Federico Fellinni, Willem De Kooning, Holman Hunt, Millais, Arvo Part, Charles Mingus, Gyorgy Ligeti, Laurel and Hardy, Elvis…

(9) Of course you began your career with Dexys Midnight Runners and I believe there’s a new album coming out soon. Is there anything you can tell us about it? What was it like recording with Kevin Rowland again?

Well we recorded together in 2003, Manhood and My Life in England (Mike Hedges produced). Prior to The ‘To Stop the Burning’ tour. But, yes, it’s true there is going to be a new Dexys album released this year. It features meself, Kevin Rowland and Mick Talbot along with some amazing players including Jim Paterson, Neil Hubbard and Lucy Morgan, meticulous in its planning and execution, recorded during 2011, these are very personal powerful songs. Kev’s in fine voice and form and its always a pleasure working with my old mate Mick, All I can say is that you won’t be disappointed, there isn’t a record remotely like this around today.

(10) What do you hope 2012 will bring for you?

Fulfillingness’ first finale.

PS: A slightly longer version of this interview appears on We Love Bearwood.

PPS: Pete Williams plays The Glee Club on the 21st February. Tickets here.

PPPS: It's unmissable.

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