MetalTalk was lucky enough to catch up with Alan Reed, former Pallas founding member and lead singer for 25+ years, now a solo artist with his outstandingly wonderful album 'First In A Field Of One' and a tour with old friends and fellow proggers from the 1980s, It Bites.
Most of us who remember Alan from his time with Pallas also remember an explosion of musical creativity in the rock and prog world, Pallas, It Bites, Twelfth Night, Pendgragon, Fish (with and without Marillion), Runrig and Clannad. He is a musician with much to be proud of and clearly much to still offer. So - what has Alan been up to?
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Hi there Alan - how's things with you just now?
"Very well. The album seems to be going down well with people, and I'm enjoying the sense of achievement after working on it on and off for the best part of two years! Just trying to get my head round how I'm actually going to play it live now. I think I may just have settled on a line-up for an electric band, so now just got to whip them into shape! :-)"
Tell us about your new album, where was it written, who did you work with, what was different working and recording on an album as a solo artist from your previous experiences working with Pallas/part of a band?
"Well the album was basically my response to being kicked out of Pallas (who I'd been with for more than 25 years). I really felt sick to the stomach about how the band treated me, and for a while I thought I'd never be able to face making music again - I certainly didn't want to put myself through the grief of having to start again from scratch. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that making music was still important to me and that I'd better get back on the horse sooner rather than later.
"I'd had various songs, and bits of songs that I'd written that I'd known wouldn't work with the band and had thought that maybe one day I'd record. Suddenly now seemed to be the time. Some were already quite well advanced, and some needed a lot of work. I spent most of the first year demoing and knocking them into shape. I'm a half decent guitarist and bassist, and know my way round a keyboard, so my aim was get them into at least a recognisable shape before I got anyone else involved.
"The main difference working on your own is the lack of anyone else to bounce ideas off. In the band everyone had an input into the material, and if one of us came up against a brick wall, then often someone else would have an idea to take things forward. On the other hand there's a great sense of satisfaction in solving all the problems yourself - though there's always the nagging worry that what you've done isn't as good as you think it is :-)"
What is your favourite track from the album?
"That's really hard to say. I love them all in their own peculiar ways. I suppose the one I'm most proud of is 'The Usual Suspects' because it was an unusual experiment that I wasn't really sure was going to work. In fact I very nearly didn't record it at all. I'm so pleased with the way it turned out though. A sort of Swing/Jazz/Prog hybrid :-)
"I actually offered an early version of 'Kingdom Of The Blind' to Pallas. They had a stab at working with my original idea, but they didn't quite 'get it', and it was dumped by the wayside. I quietly recovered it."
What inspired you to strike out on your own?
"Like I said earlier, it wasn't a matter of choice. The rest of the band unilaterally decided to sack me over a supposed 'lack of commitment' on my part. Would have been nice if they'd deigned to discuss their concerns with me beforehand, but then I had only known them all my adult life!!
"It's not a path I would necessarily have chosen, but now that I've completed the album I'm in a much happier place than I probably would have been if I hadn't. I've redefined myself in terms of who I am and what I want to do, rather than just being 'that bloke who used to be in Pallas'. I also realised that the best way of proving my former colleagues wrong was to get out there and do it :-)"
Are you still in touch with your Pallas friends?
"Err... No! Obviously we still know people in common, so I'm aware of what they get up to. But there's no way on earth I'd ever have anything to do with those people again. There's no excusing the way they've behaved. It's sad, because we'd been through so much together and I regarded them as close friends. But what's done is done!"
How did you hook up with It Bites and how excited are you to be touring with them just now?
"Well, I've known John Mitchell on and off for a few years through his work with Arena and Frost*. I suggested a while back I might be in the market for a few support slots if they needed anyone, but I'd heard nothing. I was actually on holiday in Thailand when I got a call asking if I could do these dates and they needed to know immediately. Of course I said yes.
"I'm really looking forward to it. I know It Bites are an incredible live band and I'm going to enjoy getting to watch them every night. It's also great to play across a good geographical sweep of the country. I'm particularly excited about playing in Glasgow. It's my home city, and was also my old band's spiritual home (though they're actually from Aberdeen), so I'm looking forward to doing my first solo gig there."
When I think of Alan Reed I think of Fish era Marillion. What are your own associations with you and your music.
"I just make the music I like really. Fish is more of a contemporary than an influence. We're both Scottish and both quite 'emotional' in our delivery, but I'd say our voices are quite different.
"I'd be the first to admit I'm very much influenced by the greats of Progressive rock, early Genesis, Yes, Mike Oldfield, but my all-time favourite band is Rush. You can hear it in my bass playing :-)
"I also like good singer-songwriters. People who can say at lot with just a few chords and some very well-chosen words. Neil Young, Roy Harper, Paul Simon, John Martyn. And being Scottish I'm a big fan of the Celtic swirl you get from Runrig and Dougie Maclean."
What are your observations of the music industry over the past 30 years?
"Well it's not got any easier has it? In some ways I'd say its harder for bands than its ever been. While access to the technology and skills to record music has got easier, the possibility of making a living out of it has become much more difficult. Illegal downloads have really killed the industry. People just don't buy what they can access for free. In turn the labels don’t invest much in bands. In my day a major-label deal was a life-changing experience (not always for the better). These days you're lucky if they're willing to cover your recording costs.
"Musicians have to be much more savvy about business now than they could get away with in earlier times. They need to know how much everything costs, and not to be fooled into spending what they can't earn back. It's boring when what you really want to do is concentrate on the music, but that's how it is. You also need to think in multi-media terms. Video, online etc etc.. It's all part of the same thing. There's certainly very little likelihood of a fairy-tale success story. It's very much about hard work."
You are still pretty active in the music scene from grass roots up so who would you say are artists to look put for over the next 12 months and why?
"I'm definitely the last person to ask about that as so many of my tastes were defined twenty/thirty years ago :-) If anyone really knew what the next big thing was the money-men would be queuing up to back it before it happens :-)
"But I'd bet money on Prog becoming a bit more mainstream again. I think there's now enough fresh new talent in that area that sooner or later someone's going to break beyond the niche market. There's so many good albums being made. It's just getting enough people to notice them and get them to a wider audience."
What is your top five playlist from the past 30 years and what do you associate with them?
"1) Tom Sawyer - Rush: There's so many Rush tracks from all parts of their career that I could nominate, but this one just never gets old. Whenever I hear that opening bass-pedal note my heart soars."
"2) Hysteria - Muse: I love the drama and ambition that Muse represent. Never knowingly understated they're all the fun of the fair with an (evil) intelligence behind it."
"3) Can-Utility and the Coastliners - Genesis: This is off Foxtrot, the album where they really started to define what they were about. This track has all the early trademarks. Delicate acoustic artistry, strong song dynamics and the most dramatic keyboards. And then there's Peter Gabriel's voice."
"4) Awaken - Yes: A big slice of prog wonderfulness. Yes are sometimes like five individuals soloing alongside eachother who occasionally meet up to play the main tune. 'Awaken' is a much more disciplined piece, where you have all the trademark flash, but for once it's in service of a greater whole. The big climax at the end with the church organ can still make me cry."
"5) Secret World (Live) - Peter Gabriel: A master songwriter, vocalist and live performer, this version (off the Secret World live album) showcases all his strengths. There's something about his voice that speaks to me, and here he's practically shouting."
You can catch up with Alan on Facebook and find out more about his tour with It Bites here and listen to him on YouTube here.