“We Value and Respect Each Other as Musicians,” Lindisfarne’s Rod Clements on Touring and Returning To Wales

Tyneside folk-rock pioneers LINDISFARNE are heading to Cardiff’s St David’s Hall this September.

Lindisfarne first grabbed the attention of the United Kingdom in 1970 with their debut album Nicely Out of Tune. There followed a string of memorable albums and evergreen classics including Meet Me on the Corner, We Can Swing Together, Fog On The Tyne, Lady Eleanor and Run For Home.

In 2023 and in top form, the band is pleased to return with a series of UK concerts presented by a classic five-piece line up of long-time members fronted by original founder-member Rod Clements on vocals, mandolin, fiddle and slide guitar and Alan Hull’s son in law, Dave Hull Denholm.

In the first of a two-part interview, Andy Howells chats to Rod Clements about the forthcoming Lindisfarne concert, the band’s beginnings and a new album featuring classic BBC radio sessions.

Lindisfarne are returning to Cardiff’s St David’s Hall

The forthcoming Magic in The Air Tour is starting in Cardiff?

Well, the next bunch of gigs is starting in Cardiff. We’re doing a few festivals through the summer. We’ve just got back from Sidmouth folk week. and we’re going to A New Day in Kent and Folk East in Suffolk next weekend. Then the first concert gig, as opposed to a festival, is Cardiff, St David’s Hall on 8th September.

I imagine Lindisfarne has played Wales many times over the years.

Well, yeah, quite a few going way back. When the band was established and during the big (Lindisfarne) Christmas shows in the in the early eighties, we used to go to St David’s Hall regularly. In fact, I think we may have done two nights there a couple of times, we’ve always had a great empathy with the South Wales audiences. I think they are like Geordie’s in a lot of ways.

You’ve got the social background, the industrial background, a similar sense of humour and looking out for one another. We’ve always had a great response when we go to South Wales and North Wales as well. Let’s not neglect friends in North Wales. I’ve done a couple of solo and duo gigs in that area. I think Wales is just a great country culturally and very good at supporting the arts as well.

Lindisfarne will bring their Magic in The Air tour to South Wales Photo; Jason Warnes

I was born and grew up in the North of England, so was very aware of Lindisfarne’s Music. Since I’ve left the North, it’s always been your music that has taken me right back there to the 1970s. But there were a few incarnations of Lindisfarne before you started out in the late 60s.

We had the Downtown Faction Blues Band. We we’re a straight blues band doing Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, all that kind of stuff. Then we diversified when it became harder to get gigs and that music became unfashionable in the clubs where we did most of our gigs.  It was moving more into Disco, Glam, Heavy Metal and stuff which we weren’t into.

So, we went the other way, and started getting into folk blues like Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. That gave us access to playing the folk clubs at Tyneside. It was a very active scene, there was a club somewhere on Tyneside every night with 50 or 60 people gathered into a room listening to the traditional folk songs which were largely ballads, mining songs, Irish ballads from the Irish Community on Tyneside.

We learned about songs that tell a story, that have good choruses, good melodies, things that people can latch on to at first hearing, but still hopefully, with enough depth to be able to discover more on second, third, and further hearings.

Of course, most significantly for us, it was where we came into contact with Alan Hull, who’d had a beat group background, but was spreading his wings as a singer songwriter, and found the same thing with folk clubs. He had a readymade audience for his songs and his writing was influenced by that scene as well. We fit it together like hand in glove, he was looking for a band, and we could do with a talent like his, especially a prolific songwriter with such a big catalogue!

Lindisfarne will bring their Magic in The Air tour to South Wales Photo; Jason Warnes

It was the beginning of a big journey for you, getting signed and touring across England. That journey is documented on a new album release, Radio Times which encompasses early BBC radio sessions with Brian Matthew and later John Peel, who got behind the band. What are your memories of those times?

Well, they were great times. When we joined forces with Alan, it was obvious to us and to a lot of other people that something was happening here. We were lucky to get signed by the Charisma label, which was a great label with a reputation for having slightly off-the-wall acts like Van der Graff Generator, Genesis and a few others.

When they signed us up, it was a stipulation of the contract that we moved to London. That was a wise move on their part because we spent a lot of time down in London. We got accommodation there, starting off by staying on friend’s floors, and things like that. then eventually renting accommodation of our own.

It meant Charisma could make use of us all the time, either for interviews or promo gigs in London and the outer playing areas. It was easier to get to other gigs and the radio sessions which we really did a lot of. Charisma was right in making us do that, because it kind of created a hothouse atmosphere within. It brought us together as a band. We were constantly working, the record company, made sure we never had a day off, basically, whether it was gigging or radio session or something. But it was great fun, as well.

We were young lads at large in the big city as it were, and radio sessions were great fun as well, because you were given a bit of leeway. It was usually like four songs. and they wanted two hits, or some, well known songs, and to pretty much whatever we like. So, we’d either dig back into the Blues band catalogue or try songs that we hadn’t tried out before. You didn’t get very long to do it either, you were only there for about three hours. So, what we usually did was record the backing track and then overdub the lead vocal or any solos on top of that. It’s all spontaneous really and I think that comes over.

I loved what I’ve heard so far, particularly those early recordings when you can hear the Lindisfarne sound coming over the airwaves. It’s pure magic, because that’s what it was like back then for anyone listening to those sounds.

That’s what radio was then and it’s a shame it isn’t more like that now.

Of course, Lindisfarne’s 1970 album debut, Nicely out of Tune had a beautiful song with Alan Hull’s composition, Lady Eleanor, but that didn’t impact the singles charts straight away. Single chart success didn’t happen until the second album Fog on The Tyne and the release of, Meet Me On the Corner in 1971.

That’s right. Yeah. I think Alan always felt a bit miffed that my song was the first hit and not one of his (chuckles). It certainly opened a lot of doors for us. It enlarged the whole picture.

Lindisfarne will bring their Magic in The Air tour to South Wales Photo; Jason Warnes

Can I ask you what was the inspiration for Meet Me on The Corner was?

It felt like an idea that I had kicking around in my head for a long time. I was in my little terrace house in Tynemouth, before the move to London and I came up with this little sort of finger-picking rag, tiny bluesy in about half an hour.

The next day, I remembered it and I thought I better try and write some words for that. There was a streetlamp at the end of the street which came on as dusk fell and I think that was the spark of inspiration for it! Of course, it’s a song about wanting something outside of yourself. 

It’s come from somebody who’s in a place of dissatisfaction looking for something deeper or more romantic or the “Dream Seller” basically.

It’s a very, inspiring song. I’ve always got a lot of strength from it. It’s inspired me a lot over the years. Thank you for writing it and putting it out for us to enjoy.

Andy Howells chats to Rod Clements of Lindisfarne

What was it like being in a band with Alan Hull? At one point, Lindisfarne was touted by the press as the seventies equivalent of The Beatles. That was quite a huge accolade, wasn’t it?

It was a huge accolade and there were people, I guess, around our PR and the record label who would be touting us as the next Beatles. I think if we had got as big as that, we would have been quite a lot different.

Alan had a a huge catalogue of songs far more than I did. He was very prolific writer, and I’m not. Being in a band with Alan, made me a bit lazy. I kind of took my foot off the gas, and he was quite pushy about his songs, he took great pride in them. He wanted people to appreciate them. I have to say I don’t think he was always the best judge of his own work, he didn’t take kindly to criticism, so after a while I learned to keep my mouth shut. Just let him go his way and I’ve been quite happy to chip in and have a couple of songs per album.

I have had space since, having phases of writing after Alan died, for instance, the band looked to me for further material. So, I wrote quite a lot of stuff then. I haven’t been writing so much lately, but I think it’s time I did. I’d love to get into the studio with this current band and do some material.

Do you think new blood coming into the band has helped prevent it from going stale, especially over 50 years?

Inevitably you have ups and downs in the times when we’re riding high and times when people aren’t taking too much notice of you. There’s been a few changes of style over the years, some for better, some for worse. Since this band got together in 2013 and asked me to rejoin in 2015, it’s become very much a return to first principles, and the lineup is very similar. It’s very diverse.

Most of us play more than one or two instruments. We’ve got two front men again. Instead of Alan and Jacka (Ray Jackson) we’ve got myself and Dave, who is Alan Hull’s son-in-law and regards it his mission in life to foster and promote his father in Law’s heritage, which he’s very, very good at doing. He vocally has a very strong resemblance. He’s got Alan’s guitar playing off to a T.

It’s a good team. We value and respect each other as musicians, and we all get along great. We aren’t subject to the pressures that the band used to be in the old days when it was a very pressurised environment in a lot of ways. Pressure from the Record Company to come up with new songs, which was not good for Alan.  He resisted that pressure to go out on the road. In the middle period, the eighties, and nineties, we used to get on a coach and be on the road for six weeks at a time. Where you’re all hooked up together, and if there is anything not right, that’s bound to bring it out to the full.

Now, we’re never in each other’s companies long enough to get on each other’s nerves. We tend to just go away for a weekend or a long weekend, two or three gigs at a time, then a few days off, and then get back together again. It’s great, I love it.

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