How Lindisfarne Ran To Mum And Hit Paydirt In The Hermitage
NME, July 22nd, 1978 by Bob Edmands - discovered by Michael Clayton
Alan Hull is thirty one, a lanky Geordie with a rampaging moustache, thinning hair, and a nervous manner. His manager Barry McKay says Hull is “the supreme extrovert”. Hull says that’s true, but “only when I’m drunk.”
Hull is sitting in a pub in Newcastle, reflecting upon his erratic career. Lindisfarne’s offices are above the pub, which is handy if you want to nip downstairs and do a little reflecting.
Lindisfarne had a couple of hit singles and two big albums at the turn of the decade, and then they split up. Five years later, the original band has decided to get back together again, and they’re already back in the charts. What sort of person is starting all over again as a pop musician at 31?
Barry McKay says he’s surprised that Alan Hull is willing to be interviewed, as Hull’s not too fond of the rock press. He’s a sensitive sort of chap and hostile reviews upset him.
If you think that sounds silly, then you don’t understand Alan Hull. Why should he care, when he’s written lots of melodic songs that lots of people like? Well, the fact is that he does. A slagging review in Melody Maker depressed him so much that he completely turned his back on the business for almost four years. Left his plush home at Barnet, near London, and fled back to Newcastle.
“I felt rejected,” he says. “It sounds a bit parsimonious, but it’s true. So what you do is reject what rejects you. And I stopped being part of the scene. “I didn’t have a manager. I didn’t have an agent or a record company. I didn’t read the music press. Didn’t even watch Top Of The Pops. Not even that.” [He laughs.]
“Anyway, when we signed with our new label (Phonogram) I discovered that the guy who’d written the article – Brain Harrigan – had become the press officer there.”
So how did you get on?
“Well, this article had been on my mind for three years. It wasn’t just a slagging review of a solo concert that I thought was great. It was a complete, personal affront. There was no way it could be explained away. “The only thing I could think was that when I saw him, I was gonna kick his head in.”
Did you see him?
“I didn’t kick his head in. I got him to buy us a drink instead.”
In the event, Hull had the last laugh anyway. The incident inspired a song called Run For Home, which has become Lindisfarne’s first hit single since they got back together. In fact, most things seem to inspire songs from Hull. He says he accumulated dozens of songs in the years away from the limelight. Currently he’s “working like a pig” on yet more new music, although he’s supposed to be on holiday.
Most songs come from doodling around on guitar or on a piano, and “the doodles grow into pictures.” Other songs arrive full blown. One of Lindisfarne’s best known songs, We Can Swing Together, came to him in five minutes flat. It’s actually about a police raid on a party in Newcastle, but Lindisfarne fans have turned it into a jolly anthem. Hull says he’s just written an equally powerful song called Brand New Day, which should be out as a single before Christmas.
“Actually, it’s driving me crazy,” he said. “It’s in me head all the time. It’s just gone off again now because I’m talking about it. It’s tremendous.”
Alan Hull has had songs flying around in his head for years, even before Lindisfarne was formed. He was once a nurse in a mental hospital, and wrote away furiously in his spare time. Not all his inspiration was entirely spontaneous at that time. The patients used to be given the drug LSD to help them with their problems. This was in the late ‘60s, and each patient would get 25 milligrammes a day. Alan Hull though it would be interesting to try a little of the drug himself. He took a couple of the tablets and nothing much happened, so he took some more.
“I didn’t realise it took 40 minutes to have any effect,” he says, “so I kept on taking it. I took a thousand milligrammes in all. “The result was that I ended up tripping for a month. After the first week, I went back to work, and for three weeks I was stumbling around like one of the patients. I still get flashes of it now. It’s pretty frightening, really.”
Those days, though, seem long gone. Run For Home is getting airplay on radio Two, and critics have found Lindisfarne’s comeback album a bit smooth for their tastes. Barry McKay says quite openly that he’d like to see Lindisfarne make it big in the international markets. Rough and ready Tyneside folk songs might not go down that well in the States.
Still, Alan Hull insists that there’s no question of the band giving up their heritage. “There’s no way we can ditch our folk influence,” he says. “that’s the way we are. There’s no way you can ditch yourself.”
Lindisfarne’s return has been marked by a 34 date sell-out tour of Britain, which apparently played to ecstatic houses. You can’t help but feel they’d be in the superstar league by now, if they hadn’t split up in the first place.
“It’s all become very vague in my mind,” says Hull. “I’m not that clear why the band did split up. We felt that the magic had gone as far as we were concerned. Maybe we just needed a rest.”
Did he regret the years that were lost?
“Not in the least. Now we’re back together and it’s working so well, it looks like it was a good idea. We needed that break. And we can handle it that much better this time.” Hull says the reason they reunited was the success of their annual reunion concerts in Newcastle. According to him, money didn’t come into it. One of the songs on Lindisfarne’s new album is called Only Alone. It has a line in it that goes: ‘No I’m not lonely, I’m only here by myself.’
I suggest to Alan Hull that the song could only have been written by someone who tended to be a bit solitary and didn’t like going around in crowds. Hull says: “You’re dead right. Loneliness is a peculiar thing People try to get it out in different ways. I try to get it out in songs. And it came out that way in that song.”
Does he think it’s odd that a group with a reputation for cheerful songs should have a songwriter who’s so broody?
“Well,” he says, “everybody gets a bit maudlin and morbid at times.”
But aren’t those dominant traits with you?
“No,” says Alan Hull, “usually, I’m just all right. Regular sort of person, you know. A bit crazy, perhaps, but who isn’t?”
The tape recorder is switched off, Alan Hull looks less worried and Barry McKay takes us off in his plush new Mercedes for lunch at a nice middle class bistro in Eldon Square.
Over lunch, Alan Hull gets positively extrovert, fulfilling his own character analysis with a little help from litres of white wine.
Reminiscing about his days as a mental hospital nurse, he offers this sharp assessment of the loonie business: “Neurotics build castles in the sky,” he says, “psychotics live in them, psychiatrists collect the rent, and psychopaths smash the windows.” [There is much laughter.]
“Actually,” says Alan Hull, “it’s an old gag – but I added the last line, and I think it’s quite good.” [We laugh some more.]