“It’s the Best of Both Worlds,” Rod Clements on Lindisfarne as Magic In The Air Tour Brings Tyneside Band To Wales

LINDISFARNE return to Cardiff’s St David’s Hall this September with a repertoire of unforgettable songs like Meet Me on The Corner, Fog on The Tyne, Lady Eleanor and Run For Home.

Fronted by original founder-member Rod Clements on vocals, mandolin, fiddle and slide guitar and Alan Hull’s son in law, Dave Hull Denholm, Lindisfarne recall a memorable period of live shows for their 2023 tour focussed on the 1977 release of their live LP ‘Magic in The Air’.

In the second part of Andy Howells’ interview with Rod Clements, Rod discusses working with Bert Jansch and Ralph McTell, Lindisfarne reunions and getting out on the road with the latest line-up of Lindisfarne.

Andy Howells Discusses the Magic In The Air Tour with Lindisfarne’s Rod Clements

How do you relax when you’re not on the road? Do you have any hobbies?

Well, all sorts of things. I live in the country in mid-Northumberland. I’ve got a big garden. I’ve got a a little wood to look after and I enjoy getting out with the chainsaw and making firewood and stuff like that.

I do vegetable gardening and I read quite a bit and I’m into film, classic movies and things. I acted as a Heritage guide at our local Art House cinema in Newcastle a while. I’ve got a lot of outside interests, but music is the is the main one.

I like listening to all different kinds of stuff. I like Folk blues guitar as much as I ever did. I used to work with Bert Jansch and I’m still a great admirer of his.

You played on Ralph McTell’s Streets of London, didn’t you? Have you enjoyed your little diversions from Lindisfarne over the years as you’ve released solo albums and recorded with Jack the Lad? 

Yeah, they were. They certainly broadened my scope. I mean. The first, Jack the Lad was a spin-off of Lindisfarne, of course. So, it’s mostly people I played with for a while already.

But when I left Jack the Lad, Ralph McTell, who was friend called me to come and play on a single for Bert Jansch. A version of In the Bleak Midwinter. Not only was I very pleased to get the call from Ralph, but I was also very pleased to be put together with Bert, who’d long been a guitar hero of mine.

We recorded In the Bleak Midwinter, and there was some time left over at the end of the session and Ralph said, “Do you mind if we do one of mine as well?” and we did Streets of London. It went to number two in the charts that Christmas. Bert’s Christmas single, didn’t. But fortunately, it found a place on a compilation album of Christmas songs, The 50 Greatest Christmas songs something like that. It’s had a very long shelf. Life is like that; I’m very attached to both of those tracks.

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

Streets of London is such a timeless track.

It is, absolutely. The song still speaks volumes about life in the city. It’s a song that will never age. Playing with them led to other things. I toured with Michael Chapman quite a bit, and Rab Noakes, of course, who was a great friend of the band from the very early days. In fact, just last year Rab and I were doing gigs as a duo, just backing each other up on songs and doing 50/50 gigs, then he sadly passed away last November. I do like playing with other people.

Suddenly, Lindisfarne is where it’s at, I get my own solo spots in the band’s set with the band backing me. When I’m doing my stuff, I couldn’t wish for a better band behind me, and when Dave or one of the others is doing something of theirs, it’s just a great band to be in. I just like falling back and being side man. It’s the best of both worlds.

So, what can we expect from the Cardiff show?

We do all the big hits, Meet Me on The Corner, Lady Eleanor, We Can Swing Together, Fog on the Tyne, Run for Home, etcetera. Alan left us with such a catalogue, a legacy, that we can circulate them all.

There’s maybe six songs that we always play and everything else we circulate and programme to a set list with a bit of variety, a rise and fall in it. It works great. We’ve managed to sell out quite a few gigs lately, which is against the current trend. We would normally play seated concert halls like St. David’s. When we’ve played a few standing venues lately, we found that there’s a younger crowd coming and they’re very up for it.

I think that the awareness of the band has expanded since the BBC Four documentary about the life and work of Alan Hull which was presented and linked together by Sam Fender. A lot of Sam’s fans who are obviously a younger generation, watched it because of Sam and realised he liked us and our songs. They dug further into it themselves and possibly think about coming along to see us.

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

What drew you into music originally? Was your family musical?

Not really. My dad was a big classical music fan. He bought a lot of classical LPs, and occasionally he used to take me to Newcastle City Hall, to classical concerts, high orchestra and things like that.  I found I was a bit overawed by the experience, and it was kind of a bit formal for the young lad to have to sit and be quiet and listen to all this. I think it made me aware very early on, that music is not just something you passively receive. It’s something that people do and it’s a two-way process between the musician and the audience. The whole experience is enhanced by that interaction, and I think going to those concerts probably made me aware of that.

I kind of got drawn to the guitar by The Shadows and Duane Eddy and the instrumentals of the early 60s. I didn’t think much of the singing at the time, because it was mostly highly groomed American and British boy heartthrobs, but I enjoyed the guitar solos anyway, it was instrumentals for me! Then, of course, The Beatles came along and changed everything. By this time, I was playing with other people at school, fooling about and having a go with Beatles and Kinks songs. Then, when The Stones came along, I discovered the blues, that singing wasn’t just for sissies and discovered a whole other world of music, song, and culture.

I’m still impressed to this day by how a certain generation of British kids got attracted to American blues and how much they discovered from it. How much it expanded our horizons. I’m very grateful for that!

You didn’t just play the guitar; you also play the fiddle on some Lindisfarne tracks or was it the violin?

(Laughs) it was definitely the fiddle. I’m not even a good fiddle player, never mind a bad violinist! I’m very limited into what I can do. It was not just the folk scene but the folk blues thing, and you know, the Appalachian fiddle style, which is quite rough and ready and that suits me. I’ve got no desire to be a good violinist, not that I ever could be, it’s not what I want to play. It’s not even my second instrument, it’s my third or fourth instrument, but it’s a sound effect!

Lindisfarne are heading to Wales in autumn 2023.

You did win an Ivor Novello Award for Meet Me on the Corner?

It was a certificate of honour.

Well, I’m sure your dad would have been proud of that.

I think he would, but he didn’t live to see it unfortunately. He knew I was heading in the right direction. My parents were supportive of me playing music. They had no intention that I should follow it as a career and eventually they said. “If you finish uni and get a degree you can do whatever you like.” So that was the deal and that was that was what I did.

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

Are there any highlights or anything that stands out in memory for you over the years?

Well, the first trip to America in the early seventies, 71 or 72 was very exciting. The young lads transplanted from Newcastle to London, and then we were in the States doing a low-key tour, although we were opening for bigger acts like The Kinks, The Beach Boys and Frank Zappa, people like that, which was great for us and gave us a chance to see them and play to their crowd.

It was while we’re in America that Meet Me on the Corner, went top 10 in the UK. Both Charisma and the American Record Company started going, “There’s something going on here,” and the minibus we travelled on turned into a Limo, the hotels got upgraded and the tour got extended. We spent about three weeks in LA playing clubs and that was fantastic.

Then there was the first Newcastle City Hall reunion Concert in 1976. When we were persuaded to get back together. When we walked out onto the stage, I honestly thought the roof was going to come off because the whole place just exploded, it was a fantastic atmosphere and then the same next night, and then the following year, we did it for three nights. We thought, “You know, this is too good not to not to do all the time,” so we got back together. Being invited to rejoin this line up was great and getting out playing with them.

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

That must have been quite a magic thing for you.

I had quite a low-key sort of life, which I probably still do when I’m not on stage with the band. But I was doing solo gigs, and gigs with Ian Thompson, our bass player. I had a few things in the pipeline solo wise, an album half-finished and dates to fulfil. I had to consult a couple of people like my agent, people like that about whether they thought I should accept. Everybody said,” Go for it,” which I was pretty sure I would, anyway, cause most of them were my mates. Anyway, we had, Dave and Steve Daggett on keyboards, who has been playing with Lindisfarne on and off since the eighties.

It was only the drummer I didn’t know, Paul Thompson of ex-Roxy Music who’s left now. He was replaced by a guy called Paul Smith who’s from your part of the world, Billingham, and is a terrific drummer and coincidentally played on a few of Alan’s solo albums. So, it’s very much extended family!

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