Thursday, May 23, 2024

In Conversation with Allan Crockford

A little while ago I reviewed the new Galileo 7 album, ‘You, Me and Reality’, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was very happy to get a message from Allan Crockford from the band thanking me, though he was intrigued I found it such a positive album considering the subject matter of several of the songs.

An oversight? With my reputation? Well, a bit. It felt appropriate for us to have a chat and iron out any confusion.

Quick bio (of Allan, not me)

Allan Crockford is a stalwart of the Medway music scene, as bassist with some of the greatest British bands of the past 30+ years – The Prisoners, The James Taylor Quartet, The Prime Movers, The Solarflares, Graham Day & The Forefathers, The Penrose Web and more recently adding two strings to his bow in The Galileo 7. There are many others too, possibly some even Allan isn’t aware of. None of these bands sold as many records as they should have, which is as good a review of the UK record-buying public as I can muster.

Daz: Addressing the elephant in the room, I said in my review of your new album how uplifting it is – however, after you sent me the lyrics, I see how easily I could have said the complete opposite. Do you tend to start with the lyrics or the music?

Allan: Yeah, sorry for ruining your listening experience! I had to go through the trauma of writing them, so I don’t see why you should get off scot-free Erm, anyway… It’s usually the music. I start with a solo demo with me playing everything. Sometimes I record a complete backing track before I start thinking, maybe I should get the tune and the lyrics sorted before it ends up being an instrumental. Occasionally I’ll have a few lines or phrases lying about that I’ve scribbled down on holiday or when reading a book, but a lot of the time I’m starting from scratch with a tune already worked out that the words have to fit. It’s probably the most difficult way to do it, and coming up with lyrics is like squeezing blood out of a stone a lot of the time. I don’t enjoy that part of the process at all. Maybe that’s why some of the lyrics are a bit dark and cynical!

Daz …in my defence, even the darkest lyrics have an element of hope within them – more than that, I get the feeling that you’re not willing to go down without a fight. Could you highlight where a couple of the tracks came from in terms of inspiration?

Allan: The darkness (if that is what it is) of the lyrics this time round was a direct result of the times they were written (COVID) and things that happened to me and people around me. Nothing unique – everyone suffered then in some way – but maybe things that I’d never had to confront. There’s no point in trying to write cheerful stuff if it’s not naturally coming out. Equally, there’s no point trying to write dark lyrics if you’re as happy as Larry (whoever he is). There are three songs that are linked to losing my Dad, and my Mum going into a dementia care home. ‘A Quiet Place’, ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’ and ‘Something In Your Eyes’ stem directly from those things, but it bleeds into most of the songs in one way or another. Both events get mixed up into one general feeling of loss, confronting mortality and all that. Other things did happen during that time and have bled into the songs, but they’re best left to oblique references and atmosphere.

They’re not mine to explain in public.

 

Daz: I can’t think of an album, at least in recent times, where the music is so ebullient and the lyrics are so starkly personal – do you have it in you to make an album that’s musically dark too, or do you feel more comfortable communicating with listeners using the musical styles you’ve gravitated towards over the years?

Allan: I’ve never tried to make music that is dark. Maybe that is an avenue I can explore – miserable music with jolly lyrics! Or just a blanket of misery generally. Maybe not… I gravitate towards music that is uplifting, hopefully. I’m happy with that, as long as it doesn’t become a pattern that is too repetitive. One way to undercut that possibility is to work with another songwriter, and I’ve started doing that with Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge, Death In Vegas and many others) in a project/band called The Penrose Web. We’ll have an album out later this year, hopefully. It’s been great to work this closely with someone who has a different take on things, and how music can work. And, maybe, the lessons I’ve picked up will bleed back into The Galileo 7’s future output. I’m aware that one person writing a band’s output can lead to repeating yourself, and doing collaborative projects is a way of reducing the chances of it happening.


Daz: All that malarky aside, this must comfortably be the most productive band you’ve been in, at least in terms of recorded output. Is it the sound you’ve landed upon, the band line-up or the life balance that’s led to this?

Allan: Maybe – the band has been around for the best part of fifteen years, which seems ridiculous. It still feels like we’re just getting started though. We don’t get to play a lot, so cumulatively we’ve probably only played a couple of year’s worth of gigs, even though we’ve put out 8 (or 9) albums. It’s probably down to a life balance and finding people who are prepared to play whatever old rubbish I knock out! I don’t think it’s rubbish really. I actually quite like what we do!

Daz: Much as you’re now on lead guitar, at least two other band members could legitimately be referred to as ‘band leader’ if vocals are the deciding factor – do you work very democratically or is it still survival of the fittest to get your ideas to the top of the pile?

Allan: Realistically, it’s 90% my ideas. No one else really writes songs, at least not for this band. Viv has started to contribute a few lyrical ideas for the songs she sings. I started to give the lead vocals on a few songs to Viv, Paul and Mole a few years ago. They’re all better singers than me, and I was getting tired of mixing my voice for entire albums! We’ve always had loads of backing vocals anyway, and putting someone else in the spotlight gives a completely different feel to songs, and changes the general atmosphere of albums. Different vocal textures, different ways of singing lyrics, and hopefully more interesting for the listeners. Certainly, I appreciate the break!

Daz: Have you whittled down your instruments and tech down to the bare essentials or are you a bit of a hoarder and a tinkerer?

Allan: Both. I build up hoards of instruments and amps and recording gear, then get tired of the amount of stuff lying about unused and get rid of loads of it. Then I regret it and start buying again. I am trying to whittle down the amount of guitars and keyboards in the cellar, but it’s an uphill battle against myself.

Daz: The benefit of hindsight – looking back at your previous bands, are there specific decisions you regret or moments where you’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of a particularly epic victory?

Allan: That way of thinking can lead to regret. It’s a negative emotion. Yes, we could have done things differently in The Prisoners and possibly achieved some sort of ‘success’ beyond cult or legendary status (whichever applies!), but we did things that seemed natural to people of our age and background. Sabotaging our own career, some people might call it, but acting on our instincts is nearer the truth. We didn’t think that deeply about what we were doing, and maybe that’s why people liked us, and still do. Rationalisation can help you live with certain decisions or non- decisions, but it’s more truthful to say we didn’t really have a clue what we doing and didn’t really care!

Daz: Could you talk people through Galileo 7’s discography – which order should their shopping lists be in?

Allan: That’s difficult. I’d say the last three all-original albums (‘Tear Your Minds Wide Open‘ (2017), ‘There Is Only Now‘ (2019), ‘You, Me and Reality‘ (2024)) are cut from the same basic cloth, but with different patterns. It’s a band at ease with itself, with a way of working that gets the best out of the raw material – the people and the songs. They are the albums I’m most proud of, possibly out of everything I’ve been involved with over the years. Whether they are the ‘best’ is down to personal taste. I like them, and get a rush from listening to them and playing the songs live.

Of the other albums, I’d recommend the album ‘Decayed’ (2020) if you like respectful and enthusiastic cover versions of obscure old songs you may have overlooked. The debut ‘Are We Having Fun Yet?’ (2010) and ‘False Memory Lane’ (2014) are good albums but almost sound like a different band to the one we have become since the line-up settled in 2014/15. Not a million miles away, but maybe less rocking, and more considered. Nothing wrong with that of course… The only album I remain a bit disappointed with is ‘Staring at the Sound’ (2012). It just lacked something… not sure what, maybe energy. It wasn’t as good as the debut, and that was a downer. We redid some of those songs during COVID on ‘Listening to the Colours’ (2021) because that was all we could do at the time – remote recording and all that. I think they are better versions, but it now feels like a vanity project to pass the time. Maybe that’s what all music is! There’s also ‘Live-o-Graphic’, which is essentially live versions of songs from the first three albums performed by the new line-up. A good album, but maybe not essential. One for the G7 completists, if such a thing exists!

Daz: If you appeared on ‘Later…’ would you welcome Jools Holland playing boogie woogie piano on one of your tracks or would you have a quiet word?

Allan: Are you allowed to say ‘thanks, but no thanks…’? He seems like a reasonably good egg to me, but I can leave the boogie-woogie.

Daz Lawrence

Galileo? Figaro it all out here: https://www.thegalileoseven.co.uk/

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