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Archive for October, 2010

Sorry it’s taken so long to post this interview.  I hope the readers enjoy as I have getting to know Yves Altana a little better… 

                               

  

  

 

 

 

 

“Only You Could Save Me”

Yves Altana is a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist playing guitar, keyboards and bass for among others The Chrysalids, Wonky Alice and Invincible.  He’s also worked as producer and engineer in the past and currently with up and coming bands in the UK, Germany and France.  Yves lives in Manchester, England with his wife Sally and son Ziggy.

Yves, I want to get one thing cleared up at the outset.  Napoleon Bonaparte is your great, great, great, great uncle, correct?  Sorry, a lame attempt at a joke since you both hail from Corsica.  For those readers who don’t know where Corsica is, can you give a brief geography lesson?

Hahaha! Very funny!  Corsica is an Island in the Mediterranean sea, above Sardinia. The island was invaded by the French around 1769.

What was life like growing up in Corsica?

Corsica is very family based (like in the Godfather), so life revolves around respect …and eating.

How did you become interested in music?

My grandfather played guitar when I was a child and there have always been guitars around the house.  It wasn’t long before I picked one up and began strumming it, playing at family get-togethers etc.

Can you recall your first 45 or LP you purchased?

Yes! The first 45 vinyl I bought was ‘Crazy Horses’ by the Osmonds in the mid-seventies.

Alrighty then.  We’ll just keep that between the two of us – oh and whoever reads this interview.  What was the first instrument you played?  Did you have any formal training or were you self taught?

Guitar, then later on the bass guitar when I formed my first band.  There was no bass player in town so I switched to bass…  I’m self-taught and have never had any formal training.

In 1981 you started playing in Corsican bands.  What kind of music were you playing back then?  Care to drop any names of the bands you played in?

I went to see a band called The Opposition in late 1981.  They were from London, the very first British band that ever played in Corsica. They played in a church in my home town of Ajaccio and inspired me to form a band.

The music we played was derived from The Opposition, bands like The Cure, Joe Jackson, The Stranglers, generally post-punk bands.  At that time, these bands were still very much underground.

You moved to London in 1983.  Why London?

My influences were British bands, so it didn’t make any sense form me to be in France.  With London being the capital of England, it seemed to be the obvious place to start.

1984 found you back in Corsica DJing at local clubs.  This is of special interest to me since I was spinning records here in Texas circa 1985-’86.  What were some of the 12″s and songs you enjoyed tossing on the turntables?

I decided to leave London and return to Corsica to recharge my batteries.  I had been squatting in London (Brixton, Portobello..) for too long and was pretty low.  My expectations had been so high and I didn’t find anybody to play with in London.  The language barrier played a big part in this.  I knew I was going to return to London and wanted to be more prepared the next time.

Before leaving Corsica, I was already Djing in discotheques in Ajaccio, so it was natural for me to return to this.  I specialised in playing alternative music, something no-one else in Corsica was doing at this time.  We attracted a mixed clientele including gangsters!   I enjoyed playing Killing Joke’s 12” version of ‘Love Like Blood’.  Echo and the Bunnymen 12” version of ‘The Killing Moon’ and bands like Talking Heads, Joy Division, Kraftwerk, The Stranglers, Tears for Fears, The Smiths, etc.

Ex-One Thousand Violins vocalist John Wood and yourself formed The Chrysalids in ’87.  I only discovered the “Violins” a few years ago while checking out the Vinyl Japan website and picking up a copy of Like One Thousand Violins.  Fine band that was.  Tell me how you and John got together and why The Chrysalids was so short lived.

On my return to London in the mid-80s, I decided to place an ad in Melody Maker looking for a singer in order to form a band.  This was how I met John.  We soon decided to move to Manchester to be able to find other musicians to form The Chrysalids.  The band stayed together for 4 years, so it wasn’t that short-lived.  We gigged constantly for 3 years. John Lever of The Chameleons joined us in the last year. It was a strange time really as we were playing to an audience who expected that “Madchester” sound that we didn’t have at all. It was at times quite frustrating! 🙂

Around the same time you moved to Manchester where you still reside today.  Wow what a music city!  Some of the best talent has emerged from that part of Northern England – particularly The Chameleons, Durutti Column, The Fall, Smiths, Railway Children and of course Joy Division.  Was this rich history and fertile creative ground what drew you to Manchester?

Being a big fan of most bands that you mention, I decided to move out of London.  Manchester was a more welcoming, friendlier place than the capital. Even though we left Manchester in 2002, we decided to move back early last year 2009 so yes, of course, it certainly wasn’t for the weather!  

In the late 80’s you began engineering and producing material.  Was this something you had always wanted to try?  How was the transition from performing music to working on the mixing board, etc?

I have always been interested in recording my own demos, as do most musicians. This was just a natural progression for me – learning how to use technology to be more creative, especially with the arrival of midi computers such as the Atari ST / Cubase in the late 80s.

From 1991-1993 you produced, mixed, co-wrote and performed in a band called Wonky Alice.  First, explain what is a “Wonky Alice”?  How did this group come together?  What is your favourite material and fondest memory(s) of Wonky Alice?

Wonky Alice is just the name of the band.  It wasn’t named after a mad girl from the neighbourhood 🙂

The group emerged from Oldham (on the outskirts of Manchester) and I joined them when their guitarist walked out. I met them when they came to the studio where I was recording demos at the time.

My favourite Wonky material was unfortunately never even released but I suppose the first 12” single “Insect and Astronauts” is my fav of our releases.  There was a great chemistry within the band and that was very powerful. We were a great live band.

My fondest memory was of a fight at a gig in Halifax (Yorkshire).  People were fighting in front of the stage (!) unplugging our FXs pedals etc, so I started joining in, kicking them!!! It added something to the show! 🙂

Of course my brother Jon and I visited with you and Mark Burgess before your show in Dallas in 2007.  Tell the story of how you went searching for Mark and ended up at his parent’s house.

At that time, being a huge fan of The Chameleons, I realised my home was ½ a mile away from Middleton, so… me being too spontaneous I went to bang on his parents door just to say hello and ended up having a cup of tea and biscuits with his mum.

Was it a mutual admiration that brought you and Mark together?  Explain your working relationship as well as your friendship with Mr. Burgess.

Yes and no. Mark got in touch through Pomona Records (the Rochdale based label that signed Wonky Alice) as he was looking for a guitar player with a view to playing some Chameleons songs for the last time, during his Zima Junction era.

Our mutual admiration comes from sharing a similar interest and influence in various bands such as Bowie, T-Rex, Sparks.

1995 marked the release of Paradyning, which happens to be one of my favorite albums.  Relate your experiences writing and recording this album.

I was brought in as a Producer/Arranger for Mark’s next album.  Most of the songs were already written on an acoustic guitar, so my involvement was that of developing the whole musical ideas, writing drums and instrument arrangements resulting in the album Paradyning.

The Bardots from East Anglia and 1995’s V-Neck.  How did you get asked to play on this LP?

When the album “Atomic Raindance” of Wonky Alice was released, we shared a UK tour with The Bardots.  This is how we met.  A year later they asked me to join the band when their guitarist walked out.  They asked me if I’d be interested in producing their next album as I was already working with the band.  I ended up recording, producing and playing on V-Neck. It was a great achievement. I still really love the songs from this album.

You produced The Convent’s 3rd release Crashed Cars & Love Letters in 1996.  How was it working with this German band?

In a word: Fun

I’d met Carlo through Mark when we played in Germany and they asked me to produce their album.

It was quite different to work with The Convent.  It was the first time they recorded using real drums, the drummer wasn’t very good but we worked hard and achieved something quite different than what they expected… I think.

1998 saw you and Mark back in the studio recording Venus as Invincible. For my 2 cents worth, “Think (It’s Going To Happen)”, “Only You Could Save Me” and “Verboten” are the best tracks, but overall it’s a well conceived and executed album.  How did you feel about the end product?

Well… “Venus” was a very difficult album to accomplish but at the end and after all, I was very proud of it. Artistically, it certainly the best album I ever been involved in.

After “Venus” you left the UKWhy?

Just after the release of “Venus” of Invincible Mark walked away and reformed The Chameleons so for obvious and personal matters we simply couldn’t carry on working together. It was a shock.

I decided to get away from the UK and stay away from any musical projects.

I didn’t touch a guitar for about 5 years.

After the sudden death of a very close friend, I received a call from Mark to ask me if I would be interested in playing a few shows to coincide his “Boomerang” compilation CD album (The Chameleons split again).

We ended up touring the UK as the main support for New Model Army. I could not believe I was going to play those songs from the “Venus” album once again. It was the main reason that I agreed to join him.

What can you tell us about Black Swan Lane?

I can’t really tell you much about Black Swan Lane… Mark was already involved in this project with main songwriter Jack Sobel. I was asked to jam on a couple of tracks and they ended up on an album. I wasn’t even aware these recordings were going to be publicly released… and to be totally honest, I wasn’t ‘close’ enough to any of the songs and I don’t understand why I’m credited for playing guitar on the album, I played 30 seconds on one or two of the tracks.

Catch us up on what’s been happening with you of late.

Since the US tour in March 2007, I’ve heard twice from Mark Burgess; once to ask me to play the drums (!) when The Sun and The Moon reformed to play a “Versus Cancer” charity event at The Ritz in Manchester in May 2008 and the second time was in July 2009 when he decided to call himself “Chameleons Vox” with a view to playing yet again Chameleons songs. I wasn’t interested in being involved with the project.

I am currently working as a Self Employed audio producer/engineer/composer working at Vibe Studios and other Manchester based recording studios and composing music for a new game called Hydrophobia which is going to be available later on this year for Microsoft Xbox.

I am also playing some shows with a Manchester band called I Am Kloot, playing electric guitar for their European tour Oct/Nov 2010.

I have a son called Ziggy (“Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars” being one of the most important album of all times) 🙂

Ziggy is totally adorable. He’s now 2 years old.

 

Yves Altana – October 2010

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The Spires, Still Life, Orange – not exactly household band names past or present buzzing around our collective ears.  But all have one individual in common – John C Newby.  After uploading a copy of Still Life’s 1982 single ‘Away From This Town’ on YouTube along with my comment that the song is “very obscured”, there was a quick reply posted “Not that obscured in my life. I wrote the song with my friend Ian, sang on it played the guitar and several of the keyboard parts.”  I stood corrected – which is a nice lesson for us all – something about an opinion being like a backside – everybody has one, ahem.  Anyhoo, Mr. Newby was nice enough to grant me an interview (of course after I groveled some and told him how much I’ve always liked the aforementioned song).
 
Hi Jon, time to clear away the cobwebs and look back a few years – back to the beginning, scary huh?  A town called “Louth” in Linconshire, England.  What are your faintest and brightest memories growing up there?

The swimming pool, open air, an old barrel wash. If the water was clear it had just been filled up from the spring and would be freezing. If it wasn’t clear it was warmer. Goodness only knows what had warmed it up! Getting a penny to buy some sweets. Singing in church choirs. Not enjoying school. Enjoying listening to music. Still not enjoying school. Going to the local youth club (with a pub just around the corner).
 
Do you recall the name(s) of the local record shops you frequented as a youth/teen?  What music were you into at the time?

The only record shop in town was The Music Centre run by a lady called Bev and they only had a smallish collection of pop/ rock albums. The other place to buy records was Woolworths.
I guess pre ’76 I was in to contemporary rock, Zep, Floyd, Yes , Free, Bowie etc. Then The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Jam arrived, I could actually play these songs! 
 
You play the guitar.  Self taught or music school?  Any other instruments you’ve played?

Self taught on the guitar having scraped away for some years on a violin and trying a bit of piano along the way. However, my biggest passion is singing, can’t remember a time when I haven’t sung or had music in my head, never needed a walkman or should I say i-pod.
 
What was the first band you played in?

My first band was called Fine Jade, named after a house I used to lug my guitar and amp past on the way to a friend’s house to rehearse. I think we only ever did one gig where we played the three songs we knew over and over again. I didn’t sing in this band as we couldn’t afford a mic stand.
 
Tell me about The Spires.  Who was in the band and what kind of music did you play?

Named after the biggest thing in town, the 275 ft church spire, the main nucleus of the band were me on guitar and vocals, Andy Dalton on bass with Paul Barratt on drums. Initially we had a second guitarist and vocalist, Malcom Oxborrow who we asked to leave as he wouldn’t shave his beard off! Facial hair wasn’t cool in ’77. Soon after we were joined by backing vocalist Lynne Claricoats. We wrote our own songs and were quite influenced by The Police and Elvis Costello with a dash of punk thrown in for good measure.
 
Okay, let’s bridge the past and present just a bit and bring you up to when you and Ian Campbell met.  Describe the “genesis” of Still Life.

Ian and me met at school or should I say through school friends. I left school aged 16, Ian joined the same school for the sixth form and a mutual friend introduced us. Ian was left “home alone” by his parents and a group of us, all into music, used to spend hours at his house trying to record Barbara Anne before penning our own songs “Do the Brian Jones” and “Bend Over Baby and I’ll Drive You Home”. We became a song writing partnership with Ian supplying the lyrics and me writing the tunes.
 
Explain your signing to Funzone Productions and how you were approached by Richard Ogden.

For one of “The Spires” recording sessions we asked local “star” Bram Tchaikovsky (ex Motors) to produce us. Richard was Bram’s manager and they both paid for further demos in a London studio. Richard rang soon after to say he liked the songs but not the band. A tough choice with much agonising.
 
Talk a little about the difference in recording and production of music onto album in the early 80’s vs. today.

Everything was recorded onto tape with all parts played from the beginning to the end of a song. Edits were made by marking the tape with a chinagraph then cutting it with a razor blade before splicing it back together with sticky tape. All synth parts were generally played, sequencers were very basic and MIDI didn’t exist. Every piece of gear had a knob for every function rather than multiple menus. Recording was generally a process of getting a good take rather than recording lots of takes and compiling the finished article.
 
The 12″ ‘Away From This Town’ is I believe my only vinyl copy of anything on Regard Records.  How did you come to sign with Regard?  Were there other artists on that label?

We did demos for EMI, spoke to Chrysalis and Regard. We went with Regard as they offered us the best deal, allowing us to keep our publishing rights and were run as a subsidiary of RCA by former CBS MD David Betteridge. Their most well know signing Haysi Fantayzee had a single called “John Wayne is Big Leggy”. Also on their books were a band of pretty boys called Ca Va Ca Va and some time later a band called One the Juggler.
 
I was pleasantly surprised after reading a little about you that Mathew Seligman, ex-Soft Boy and Anne Dudley (Art of Noise) both played on ‘Away From This Town’.  Did you feel you needed 2 bass players?

After Matthew had put his part down it was decided that the bass end of the song needed a bit more oomph to it, so Anne Dudley appeared with a mini moog in an old brown suitcase to double it up.
 
Was the song written based on personal experience?

The initial lyrics were about a contemporary at school who would go on to inherit his dad’s business, but I think, although you’d have to ask Ian for the definitive answer, that it was just a made up scenario about a boy and a girl.
 
The b-side is ‘Teenage Fun’.  A commentary on youth?
Was Funzone or Regard in high or low promotion mode with this single?

A commentary on youth, teenage angst but no regrets!
I don’t think being Regard’s third release helped our cause, maybe the money had run out, but they didn’t seen to do much with it.
 
Radio 1 obviously liked what they heard and began playing it on their Round Table programme.  What was the “Round Table”?  Don’t tell me there were DJ’s named Arthur or Lance on the show.

Round Table was a sort of radio version of Juke Box Jury where a panel of celebs passed comment on new releases and then, I think, voted then a hit or a miss. As far as I know no knights ever appeared on the programme. I seem to remember the singer of The Associates being on the panel when our song was reviewed and it also being a first airing of Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie”.

Why were there not more copies made of the 12″?

I think Regard thought it would take them some time to get airplay for the single but it actually came (and went), very quickly. Too quickly, I think, for them to get any records pressed. I always thought it was quite a good 12” section, compiled by Ian and me at home splicing sections of tape together that we’d brought from the studio and adding further parts over the top.
 
Other songs you had recorded like ‘Tired of Dancing’, ‘Like A Statue’ and ‘Little Innocent’ were never released.  Was this a result of a lack of interest/effort by Regard?

We parted company with Regard soon after recording these songs for them and I think they owned the recordings for some time after.
 
You left Regard and you and Ian recruited Mark Reeves on keyboards, Tim Bradley on bass and Paul Barratt playing drums.  Explain how you guys met and the ensuing chemistry, or lack of henceforth.

Mark was seen by our producer playing in a Brighton band called “Birds With Ears”, Tim answered a Melody Maker ad and Paul had played in all my previous bands. Not sure we ever developed a great chemistry as a band and the whole thing folded when Tim threw a Pukka Pie at Mark in the back of my car. I think I sold the car with the pie still stuck to the back seat!
 
Your second single, ‘My World’ b/w ‘Passion Play’ was released on Funzone.  How did you feel about this pairing on a disc and the end product?

I seem to remember we went into the studio to record “Passion Play” and another song but ended up recording a song we’d just written, “My World” that our manager decided would be our “Vienna”. The end product I felt suffered from a much lower budget, Funzone was a label set up by our manager. I think Ian and me paid for most of the recording of this single from our PRS income.
 
I found it very interesting that as Still Life you played several gigs in support of Culture Club.  Was this a “Funzone” idea or did you have a longing to get close to Boy George?  Ok, that was a cheap shot.  Sorry, but seriously, how was Boy George?

We played a few gigs with Culture Club but were not actually on tour with them ,so we turned up to the venues in a hired transit van, sitting on deckchairs in the back, in time to watch their road crew sound checking, they turned up just in time to play and left as soon as they came offstage. I never actually met Boy George, although Ian and Mark did speak to him briefly. We did meet the other members of the band, Jon Moss, Roy Hay and Mikey Craig.
 
‘Passion Play’ was reworked to be the single.  What feedback from radio or the public did you get that this was the better song?

Feedback was from a record plugger employed by Funzone and from our manager’s industry friends who felt it was a better choice being more up tempo. Interestingly it was yet another story about a boy and a girl, only this time from Ian’s real life experience.
 
Nick Griffiths who’s known for his work with Pink Floyd remixed the single.  Did you enjoy working with him?

Really enjoyed working with Nick at our local studio The Chapel. We remixed “Passion Play”, recorded “Everyday is Sunday” and “Deep Water” and did about ten other songs as “live” demos specifically for A&M. On the three main tracks Nick got us to use some of the interesting instruments that were lurking in the studio to try and give things a more organic sound, rather than just using the synth sounds we’d employed on our home demo.  He also played one of the guitar parts on “Deep Water”.

Then Tim and Paul left the band.  Any reasons in particular?

I can’t remember quite why Paul left, probably because like Ian he’s a lifelong friend who I’m in regular contact with and this was just one of many incidents we’ve shared in our lives. Tim, however, left the band to get a job with British Coal so he could get married, just as Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill were locking horns and the industry was about to be destroyed. Bad timing I guess.
 
Did you feel things were falling apart when Ian decided to move away?

Yes!
 
So that was it for Still Life?  Are there any future plans to re-release any of your material?

Not to my knowledge, but I have just found some very old 4 track demos, mixes of which I’ll be releasing to Ian!
 
The next group you were in was Orange.  Not the color of the group or the fruit, but the name.  Did you have any releases?  Was the music style similar to Still Life?

We did some demos but didn’t have any releases. The style was very different to Still Life a funky/bluesy three piece with me on guitar and vocals, Carl Watson (ex Dogs d’Amour) on bass and Simon Hanson (currently with Squeeze) on the drums.
 
More recently you have moved into teaching.  Expound on this career move and how it feeds your passion.

Actually for me this has been a great move. I work as a self-employed guitar tutor mainly in local primary schools and currently have about 150 pupils aged from 5 to 16 and get to strum, sing and share some of my favourite songs with them. I’m also employed by Access to Music at their college in Lincoln where I work with school leavers, teaching them vocals and music tech. I get great pleasure seeing young people developing both as musicians and individuals and feel I’m giving something back to music, something I continue to derive great, possibly ever increasing pleasure from.
 
You still play in a “covers” band.  Do you play any of your own material?

Sadly no, the band is a function band and plays mainly to the same people in different marquees around the Lincolnshire Wolds. However, unlike Still Life, we have developed a great chemistry and thoroughly enjoy our gigs especially the improvised bits and normally have most of those present leaping around to us and then sitting down for a rest when the disco’s on.
 
Talk about your family.  Do you still have the donkey?

Wonkey the donkey is still with us as are the horse, dogs, cat and tortoise. Animals are my wife’s passion. Nearly forgot to mention, we also have two boys, both really into music, but while both have dabbled with guitar it doesn’t seem to be a passion for them.
 
You now live in Belchford, UK.  Ok, I can’t resist, was the town named for a certain indigestion problem that ran rampant at one time?

Possibly.
Actually it’s a small village with only 250 residents famous now for “The Belchford Downhill Challenge”.

I must say I truly enjoyed listening to your new material on your My Space as well as new-er versions of older songs.  Readers can listen to and find out more about Still Life on Jon’s Still Life page.
 
Thanks Jon.

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Rick Altizer’s new CD “I Want Mine” is now available for purchase here:
http://cgi.ebay.com/Rick-Altizer-Want-Mine-CD-/320596804479?pt=Music_CDs&hash=item4aa50f037f

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