Talking Music: Bringing On Back The 60s With New Amen Corner - Glen Leon Interview
1960s revivalists, New Amen Corner have been entertaining music fans on the live theatre circuit for over 17 years. Supporting a legion of original music stars including Chris Farlowe and Mike d’Abo the band have featured on several 1960s package tours including The Sensational 60s Experience. They are now back out on the road headlining their own show, Bringing on Back The 60s featuring special guest, Little Miss Sixties, Nancy Ann Lee.
Ahead of two dates in South Wales, Andy Howells recently caught up with New Amen Corner vocalist, Glen Leon to discuss Bringing on Back The 60s.
What started off your interest in the music business?
It was my Mum and Dad playing records. I was heavily influenced by The Beatles when I was 7 or 8, just singing along to records. Through school, I started to learn guitar, got into singing and then we had various school bands. I played my first live gig when I was about 12 and had to lie about my age! I went on from there to get my first professional job when I was 16 in Yugoslavia.
You’re from Wolverhampton, so how did you end up in Yugoslavia?
(Laughs) We did an audition and got it. We went off to do three months in Yugoslavia in some hotels, the penny didn’t drop till I was there that I was doing it for a living! I went from Yugoslavia to Norway and then we did summer seasons and holiday camps, stuff like that!
I suppose performing those type of venues helped you build a wide repertoire of music?
That’s right, it certainly helps! I came into my own regards writing songs and got signed to Warner’s record label when I was 21. I didn’t make it, but I gained a wealth of experience and then I went down the cabaret route performing with Jane McDonald, before moving on to cruise ships and eventually hooking up with my current band. That was 17 years ago now.
New Amen Corner are at the forefront of the 60s revival scene on the live circuit. How did the band come into existence?
When I first joined the band, it was as a Tom Jones tribute, they were backing me and initially we were a seven-piece soul band doing 60s festivals. We saw The Bootleg Beatles and they had a small orchestra with them and we thought “it’d be nice to do something like that.” We thought we’ll put a little 60s show together with an orchestra which we did.
Keith, our saxophone player at the time had connections with people like Screaming Lord Sutch and Alvin Stardust, but he also knew Alan Jones from (the original) Amen Corner, who is now a booking agent. He said, “Why don’t you go out as Amen Corner?” We didn’t feel comfortable with doing it, as there were no original Amen Corner members in the band and we’ve made sure that we say that as well. Another band tried it and failed miserably. So, we put “New” in front of “Amen Corner” to keep it fresh and as a tribute to the original band.
Obviously, we got more into Amen Corner as we started doing the set, listening back to what they were doing. They were a soul band, so that suited us down to the ground!
The show took on another direction when we started to do theatres. We’d have brass players and began injecting lots of other material in there. Cliff Bennett was the first person to sing with us, he came to see us in The Stables at Wavendon and agreed to do a few shows with us. From then, the word got around and so other singers started saying, “We need a band!” We started backing people and that gave us some credibility.
There was one show I saw you as New Amen Corner and then you left the stage and came back on as Steve Ellis’ Love Affair later. Do you adapt well to backing different artists?
(Laughs) That’s right! I think that’s just credit to the guys in the band and the experience we’ve all gained over the years playing different styles. I wouldn’t say that the original 60s musicians couldn’t do that, but they have a repertoire to stick to. I think we’re a little bit different because we perform a wider scope of music.
Several acts from the 1960s are retiring from live performances now. Do you see New Amen Corner carrying the torch for 1960s music on the live circuit in the future?
Well, we’ve no plans to retire! The 60s concerts are still going strong. We’ve got other things going on as well. We are probably one of the busiest bands in the country and do up to 220 gigs a year.
Can you tell us a bit about the Bringing on Back the 60s show you are doing with Little Miss 60s (Nancy Ann Lee)?
There are a few costume changes in there, so its not like a band just playing through a load of tunes. There’s a bit of visual with a video screen behind us playing images associated with the songs. We also do a medley which lasts about 18 minutes and its synced to the video featuring all the people we have worked with over the years as we perform their songs, it works quite well!
We’ll also be doing a couple of duets with Nancy, including material made famous by Sonny & Cher and Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell. Nancy also does material by Dusty Springfield, Lulu and Aretha Franklin. Big 60s songs really!
Do you ever get funny experiences at gigs?
Yeah, because Dave, the bass player is the oldest member of the band and sometimes people mistake him for Andy Fairweather Low. We obviously put them right!
You’ve worked with many 60s legends, are there any that stand out?
Well Mike d’Abo (of Manfred Mann) has written some great songs, many like Handbags and Gladrags and Build Me Up Buttercup both of which he never performed himself, while Chris Farlowe has a powerhouse voice! Wayne Fontana is a lovely man and made us laugh on stage every night!
What are the biggest achievements for New Amen Corner over the years?
Recently performing on the Cunard ships because we’ve done all three of them now and working in theatres in general. It’s just the nicest work that you can do!