Al Shalliker: Singer Songwriter
Al Shalliker - acoustic guitar/vocals
Alex McGinnes - harmonica/backing vocals
Mark Flack - bass
Lee Harper - piano
Ben Grubb - electric guitar
Jo Atkins - backing vocals
All songs by Al Shalliker
Produced by Al Shalliker
Front cover design by Tony Davies
The painting 'Billy's Van', featured in the rear cover art, kindly provided by the artist Ian Shalliker (copyright 2021)
Recreational Research is the musical entity of British, Spain based music producer Craig Bracey. Craig produces original tunes and remixes and was kind enough to remix 'Where All The Music Comes From' and 'Black To The Ground' from 'Silver Linings'. Many of Craig's tracks and official remixes can be found on his Hearthis page and via Soundcloud. Please follow the links below.
NEWS, REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS
Interview with North London's 'Lost In The Manor' Label - PR - Agency: Al Shalliker - Where All The Music Comes From
APRIL 8TH, 2021
Many music lovers of a respectable vintage across the South West of England will be familiar with the work, if not the name, Al Shalliker, the songwriter and guitarist in Watershed, a nimble and melodious reggae-soul act who gigged tirelessly from Penzance to Bristol and beyond. This included a residency at Plymouth venue The Breakwater, which is fondly remembered by its attendees – including myself – for its air of light debauchery and joyous, bass-heavy vibes.
Over the years, Watershed’s sound took on a more folkish direction but whatever the genre, Al always had a canny ear for catchy, beautifully structured tunes and sage lyrical observations. This is still in evidence on his first solo album, Silver Linings, recorded with a few guest musicians over the past year. The first single to be taken from it, ‘Where All the Music Comes From’, is a moving work of stripped-down silvery Americana that lingers in the mind.
Given the song’s title it seemed appropriate to ask Al where his own music comes from, and here he also gives us his thoughts on the industry’s fluctuations, surviving on Ribena on the road and playing the festival that made Mad Max seem like TOWIE.
Words by Nick Mee
Discovered via http://musosoup.com
LITM) It’s good to catch up and congratulations on Silver Linings, which is sounding great. The first single taken from it, ‘Where all the Music Comes From’ is partially inspired by the art of songwriting itself. Do you have a particular method for writing songs or is it all spontaneous?
Al) For me the process of writing songs isn’t particularly spontaneous, though the moment when the essence of a song arrives can help create the illusion that it is. Songwriting like any pursuit needs hard work and considered input to get good output. There are some songs that come quickly, and those can often be the more successful creations in terms of appeal, yet it’s easy to overlook all you’ve absorbed and creatively stockpiled. The ideas that flow out over a few hours to make a fairly complete song might have been there consciously or subconsciously for years previously. Personally, while I’m writing I’m often not always aware of what I’ve absorbed or am drawing on until after the fact but I am drawing on it nonetheless.
In terms of the process the key is, of course, to get a guitar in your hand and start singing, humming, mumbling or whatever it is you do. My approach generally relies on a combination of lyrics, melody and a chord sequence converging to create something that is often the precursor to one of the first two verses of a song. It generally already contains some of the mood, atmosphere, concept and narrative and so when those things come quickly it can appear spontaneous but really it’s about creating the opportunity.
The album mostly consists of new material but some of the tunes are overhauled versions of songs you played previously with Watershed. Were any of them particularly difficult to rework as solo tracks?
Yes, there are three in there I’ve performed with Watershed: ‘Where All The Music Comes From’ , ‘Plymouth Song’ and ‘Believe In Me’. None of those were particularly difficult to rework. Certainly as a solo project there was a lot more freedom in terms of rhythm, tempo and mood. Not having a drum kit involved probably helped with that too. There was also no negotiation to be had and fewer compromises to be made. Although I’ve enjoyed working in a band environment, on this album, Silver Linings, I was very focused on expressing each individual song in the right way. There is often fine detail in the expression and I’m pleased that I had the freedom to go after it – and pleased with what was captured.
The accompaniment on this album is a little different than the Watershed approach but with the difficult times we have had the windows of opportunity to collaborate with people were much smaller, so the approach was more individual and organic. A band approach can be more formulaic whereas each song here took its own path. At times there were things that didn’t gel and didn’t progress because the musicians had not sat in the same room together prior to the recording sessions but, on the flip side, I also had time to work on ideas, lyrics and harmony in the studio. The collaborations were a lot of fun, maybe because of the adversity we’ve all been dealing with in everyday life.
You’ve seen a few different sides to the music industry – Watershed had a record deal and were prolific live performers in the Nineties. Do you think you’d have benefited from the internet, streaming services, etc, back then, or has it all made it harder for musicians?
Watershed probably would have benefited from the internet and music-streaming platforms. We were a busy gigging band but we also liked to continuously create and record whenever the time felt right. The industry model for aspiring artists in the Nineties was very different and while there are very different challenges now, artists do at least have a platform to get their music out into the world under their own steam. I really like the independence that affords. My interactions with the music industry have been mixed. I’ve met some great people and had a lot of fun along the way but it’s great being able to make your own choices as to how you present the art you’ve created without having to compromise on sincerity. I guess being a bit older and less driven by the financial rewards helps me with that.
It is fair to say that the pool of talent is probably more diluted now but new artists also have a wider and more media-savvy view on how they present themselves. Artists are relying less on the industry to manipulate an image for them, they’re doing it for themselves before they even have any music to release. I like that. You were maybe more focused on how you sounded in the rehearsal studio in the Nineties and it was probably tougher to get your head above the water but I’m sure many of the challenges for new artists are exactly the same today. I mean I do feel like I’m a new artist myself again, and it does feel easier, but I haven’t been doing hundreds of miles a week in a transit van on a diet of ribena and garage sandwiches.
What’s the music scene like in Plymouth now, before Covid struck? Any really good venues or other artists we should be aware of?
The venues have really struggled in Plymouth and over the past 10 years the city has lost a fair number of decent smaller venues. The music pubs have suffered the same fate as the wider pub trade and there is definitely less of an outlet for new gigging bands. However, I still think there is a lot of creativity in Plymouth and a lot good bands producing new music. Some of the “old dogs” are still going strong too. You’ve still got highly talented and unique artists like Vince Lee and Mad Dog Mcrea here that have followings nationally and beyond. They are still doing their thing and producing great music. The Plymouth Musicians’ Co-op continues to thrive – before the Covid restrictions the rehearsal and recording facilities were as busy as they have ever been. We do need more of an outlet for original talent in Plymouth as is the case in most cities. One thing that never ceases to amaze me though is the continuous outpouring of musical enthusiasm, drive and talent we always see across Britain and Ireland. Long may it continue. Sometimes I do wonder where it all keeps coming from.
What was your favourite venue or gig that you’ve played?
My favourite venue was Cornwall Colliseum on the beach at Carlyon Bay in Cornwall. There was something special about the place and it had a great natural acoustic, so it was always a great place to see bands and to perform. I remember playing a reggae sunsplash event there in the Nineties on the same bill as Misty In Roots and a few others and suddenly seeing this bloke in a white suit charge up on stage and grab a microphone. Turned out it was Radio 1 DJ Man Ezeke, which turned an already good show into a better one so I didn’t grab the mic back. He was a good guy. We played Glastonbury, which was great, but supporting The Levellers at the Coliseum was probably the one for me. We did a really diverse, more adventurous set to a packed house. The sound was great from the get-go and I just remember the whole band seeming really happy that night. Good times.
And what’s the strangest gig you’ve ever done?
There’s probably too many to choose from but playing Treworgey Tree Fayre is definitely up there. It was a fairly off-the-wall festival in Cornwall in 1989 that made a Mad Max film look like The Only Way Is Essex. The gig was OK and the band on before us were Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, who went on to good things, but I remember going in the back-stage bar after the show and there was a horse grazing on some hay in the corner.
[More on that fabled festival here: http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/treworgey-tree-fayre-1989.html]
Finally, what would be your dream venue to play and who else would be on the bill?
I’d like to play Earl’s Court, London, with an eclectic line-up including Bob Dylan, Alpha Blondy, Taj Mahal, Paulo Nutini, Gerry Cinnamon, Nora Jones, Zakir Hussain and John Cooper Clarke. I’d play first and there would be massive bean bags to sit on. John Cooper Clarke could recite Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’ in the big all-star singalong at the end!
Get in touch to learn more about Al Shalliker, their music and upcoming appearances.