ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages

Interviews of Prog

Alan Reed
Alan Reed
Interview by Vitaly Menshikov

VM: Hello dear Alan. Welcome to Progressor - one of the Battle Stations on the Virtual Rock Front supporting the Progressive Rock Movement. First off, I want to congratulate you on creative success of your last album, "Beat the Drum". Also, thank you for doing the interview very much. Lots of our readers are waiting for it. Really, about two years ago Pallas produced a great album, such a model of how it is really possible to attract an attention of lots of potential Prog-lovers to 'our' genre. Anyhow, this album still remains as if unnoticed (or openly underrated) from the direction of the 'progressive' reviewers, whose main duty is to be the 'navigators' in the sea of releasing proGductions. Please, first off, tell us how the "Beat the Drum" album, IMHO Pallas' best work to day, was composed and completed for release - briefly speaking, "Beat the Drum" is on the way to its listeners.

AR: Well, I suppose it would help if I explained a bit of the background. As I'm sure you know, the last proper Pallas album was "The Wedge" back in 1986. We'd more or less written and demo-ed the follow-up album "Voices in the Dark", before we effectivley split in 1988. We came back together around 93 - working with keys player Mike Stobbie - and wrote another batch of material which had the working title of "Arena" (Funny how that name turned up again!!).. we weren't really happy with it, and the projected album never quite came together...

We were all on the point of giving it up for good.. I for one was getting fed up of travelling to Aberdeen (I live 600 kms away in London) to work on material that never saw the light of day. I got a call from Niall saying that I should come up again, because he and Grame had started working with Ronnie (Brown, Keyboards) again and that something special was happening. I was a bit sceptical, but decided to go up and give it one last try... That was an amazing weekend - Suddenly the buzz was back and we wrote two new songs!!!

The album itself then came together quite quickly.. the problem was deciding which songs to leave off!! It was quite a complicated process, with cassettes of ideas going backwards and forwards from London to Aberdeen, and them me flying up for a few days to work on a couple of tracks at a time once we 'd decided on arrangements. I quite often found myself singing along to a very basic computer track, with the others adding their parts later. Some of the material had been around for a while - "Ghosts", "Hide& Seek" and "All or Nothing" had been around in one form or another since the "Voices in the Dark" sessions, and we felt that they were still strong enough to be included.. But some of it was very last minute.. I recorded the vocals to "Fragments.. " on the day I first heard the backing track.. The others had been working on it without me, and Graeme already had a strong idea about vocals and lyrics.. We did it section by section.. writing the words together as we did each verse. It was great working on the album, because we were quite sure we had something special - not least the positive atmoshpere being generated between the members of the band.

VM: Was "Beat the Drum" the first work in the history of the band released/ distributed by your own label, called simply "Pallas", or it was a kind of as if a single self-production? Are you happy with your current distribution deal?

AR: It was the first - but won't be the last. The days of needing a major record company to market our kind of music are over. The market itself is a reasonably small and specialised one, so it's much simpler to deal directly with the relevant retailers and distributors, rather than waste time and money on mass market campaigns. The internet also makes direct sales a much easier proposition. Doing it this way means we don't have the same costs as we'd have doing it with a major label - whch means we don't have to sell as many before we see any money back.

We recorded the album without really having thought what we were going to do with it once we'd finished. It was kind of a point of honour to finally finish the album we'd always said we'd do. Once we'd done it we then had to think about how to release it. We'd been out of the business for a long time, so we weren't sure there'd be any real interest at all from companies or the public.

We needn't have worried.. most of the prog distributors approached us with various offers of deals. We liked the independence of not having a record company telling us what to do, so we decided to do it ourselves, and license distribution in various territories. In the end we settled for a UK distributor who got it into major stores.. and signed to Inside Out for the rest of Europe. That's turned out quite well for us, because they were able to organise the kind of press coverage in Germany and the netherlands which we weren't organised enough to do. So far we're pretty happy with the results, and we'll continue to work with them.

VM: It's time to hear a brief history of Pallas, which, in my opinion, is currently just one of a few real progressive hallmarks to come out from Britain's contemporary progressive rock scene.

AR: I don't know how brief I can make it - It's a long story!!!

The band began in the mid-70's when Graeme (Bass) and Derek Forman (recently departed drummer) started a band at school along with Mike Stobbie (Keys). This band became RAinbow, but had to change its name when a certain Ritchie Blackmore decided to call his new band the same thing.. After various line-up changes the band (now called PALLAS) settled on the formula and personnel that recorded "Arrive Alive" and "The Sentinel". By this time (the early 80's) the band had a massive following in Scotland, and were starting to play all over the UK. They recorded a live album "Arrive Alive" in 1981, before evenutally signing to EMI and releasing "The Sentinel" in 1984.

After the album, Euan Lowson (singer) left the band and I was brought in. I'd been a big fan of the band, so it was quite strange to find myself part of it. A few months later we released "The knightmoves " an EP of three tracks to give fans an idea of how the band sounded with me singing, and the direction we were headed in. A year later (1986) , we released our second EMI album "The Wedge".

EMI did a terrible job of promoting the album, and we were very unhappy with our relationship with them, so we walked out of our deal. We then worked towards the next album "Voices in the Dark" and continued gigging, with a view to getting another major deal. We were so close on a number of occasions, but always something would happen to prevent it happening!!! In the end, we ran out of money and patience.. and I decided I needed to try doing something else for a while. That was the end of 1988.

But something kept dragging us back together, and here we are - back again!!

VM: Sorry, Alan, now my traditional question. Can you explain the name of your band? What does it means - Pallas? To be honest, I still have no idea about this.

AR: It's actually part of the name of the Greek goddess of war, wisdom (& needlework!!) Pallas Athena.. also known as Athene or Minerva. The name got chosen (at least this is what I've been told - I wasn't there) because it was one of the names they put in a hat when they had to change their name from Rainbow. I've no idea what the other names were (Rush?, Saga?, Duran Duran?!!!)

VM: You have by now produced 3 (am I right here: I mean "The Sentinel" of 1984, "Knightmoves to the Edge" compiled of two mini-albums - of 1992, and "Beat the Drum" of 1998?) full-fledged albums. What can you tell about your previous (full-fledged!) works? Is "Beat the Drum" a much more successful CD in comparison with both early albums - I mean both sides of the coin - creative and commercial, what is your own opinion?

AR: You missed out "Arrive Alive" the live album the band put out themselves in 1981 (which we've just re-issued on CD along with some early demos and b-sides). "The Sentinel" is, according to many people, one of the definitive prog albums of the 80's. It's more or less a concept album, telling the story of how the mythical land of Atlantis destroyed itself by war, but the survivors build a machine to protect other races from making the same mistakes. I have to say it has one of the most beautiful album covers I have ever seen. I remember seeing it in a record shop, and being just amazed by it. "The Wedge" (which is now re-released with "the Knigthmoves EP" on it) is a much more direct album. We felt we wanted to try and be a bit more "progressive" and try and use more modern sounds, rather than restrict ourselves to what have become the prog cliches like mini-moog solos and Mellotron choirs. Not that we didn't like that kind of music, just that we wanted to develop it into something a bit more contemporary. We were also under pressure from EMI to come up with some more commercial material, so there are a couple of attempts at singles - "Imagination" and "Win or Lose".

I think "Beat the Drum" manages to combine elements of both the previous albums... strong, accessible melodies, along with the pomp and granduer which is one of the band's trademarks. We still manage to end up sounding like us, and have tried to avoid falling into to many musical cliches.

Commercially, the 80's albums were much more successful interms of numbers sold. We were a high-profile band, with the backing (at least some of the time) of a major record company - and we sold a lot of records. The market has changed, and even the most successful artists doing this kind of music don't sell those numbers of records anymore. But we're still happy. BTD has sold many more albums than we expected given how long we've been away. By doing it ourselves we've still managed to make enough money to make it possible to continue. I think that people are finally beginning to realise that we aren't just a myth and we are actually in business again. We won't be buying ferraris just yet, but we will be making more albums!!

VM: Alan, how did the (band's) first tour come about, and what memories, musical or social, do you have of those times?

AR:The first tour I did was terrifying!!! I'd previously only played to a couple of hundred people or so before. But when I joined Pallas I was suddenly playing to much bigger audiences - who were there mainly to see us!! My first ever gig was in front of an invited fan-club audience in Aberdeen - so the band could get an idea of whether I would fit in live, and see what the fans made of it. The next gigs were two sold-out nights at the old Marquee in London, with lots of press and record company people there. After that we played two festivals in front of about 10,000 people. It was all a bit intimidating. Especially because Euan (the previous singer) was such a character. I knew that a lot of people would be cynical about me joining the band, so it was important that I made a good impression. Fortunately they seemed to like it.

That whole era is a bit of a blur. We were constantly on the road or in the studio. It wasexhausting, but great fun.

VM: What was the first band you saw live? And what was the first Progressive Rock band you saw live?

AR: The first band I went to see was Rush at Glasgow Apollo on the Hemispheres tour in 1979... amazing gig!! I suppose the first proper prog band I saw was Genesis. Same venue, 1980 - Duke tour. As for the 80's bands, I saw Pallas and Marillion at more or less the same time, when both bands were still playing pubs. I have to say I preferred Pallas - though I thought Fish was an incredible stage personality.

VM: What is the musical training of the band members?

AR: I think Ronnie (keys) is the only one with formal musical training. The rest of us are self-taught. We all play a bit of each-other's instruments. I was a bassist before I joined Pallas (I wanted to be Geddy Lee) - and in fact the Shergold 12/4 twin-neck that Graeme plays used to be mine!!! I also play a lot of guitar (mainly 12-string, tho I play electric and classical as well) and a bit of keyboards. It's especially useful now that I have to work on my own in London. I can work ideas out by myself and then send them on tape for the others to develop - similarly they can send me ideas which I can then record versions of before adding vocals etc.

Niall's probably the most "musical" person in the band. He plays a bit of keyboards as well, but it's mainly how he manages to think in terms of sounds and ryhthms rather than just guitar or keyboard parts. He produces a lot of other bands, and he learns new things with everything he does bringing fresh ideas into his work with us. He and Ronnie work very closley together, trying to work out how to complement eachother's ideas, rather than compete.

Graeme's a great ideas man - and often comes up with phrases or parts to develop. He's also great in the vocal department. He's a great singer, and often has strong melody ideas, which we work on together. Quite often the vocal parts on a song will have been written by both of us - I'll maybe have done the verses and he'll have done the chorus or vice-versa. He also comes up with a lot of lyrical ideas. The words are often a joint project -and we're merciless with eachother about what we think is the right way to do things!!!

Colin's a very musical drummer, and works very closely with Graeme and Niall in particuar in getting the rythms together. He and Ronnie have also played together a lot in other bands over the years, so they know eachother's ways very well.

VM: What is (are) your favourite Rock band(s)?

AR: Rush (my favourite of all time), Radiohead, Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Yes ...

VM: What would be your classic Progressive Rock supergroup?

AR: Me on vocals and bass, Niall on guitar, Graeme on triangle :-)

Actually , I find that kind of stuff difficult, because I know that it's how the different members of a band work together that makes it what it is, rather than just the individual talents. It makes it hard for me to imagine Geddy Lee working with Rick Wakeman, Dave Lee Roth and Angus Young - ( tho the prospect IS intruiging)

Besides isn't there a law that says any prog project must have Clive Nolan on it somewhere? :-)

VM: What kind of music are you listening to?

AR: I like loads of stuff really.. a lot of recent stuff.. Radiohead, Counting Crows, Pulp, Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene. I really like the last Madonna album.. I love that trancey stuff that William Orbit (her producer) does. Strangely enough I don't listen to much prog (apart form the classics - Yes, Genesis, ELP etc), although I quite like the last Spock's Beard album, and everyone tells me I should listen to Dream Theater.

VM: What exactly are you up to at the moment? What projects are you working on?

AR: We're working on the next album.. tentatively called "Midas Touch". We've got most of the songs togethernow, although some of the arrangements need a lot of work still. We aim to have it ready by Sept/Oct of this year. Niall's also putting the finishing touches to a live album, recorded on last year's tour, which should be out in June. Plus the two EMI albums are about to be re-released, with major re-packaging and inter-active video and stills. That's keeping us all pretty busy for the moment.

VM: What other things do you have in line for the future?

AR: We're planning to do another European tour at the end of the year, once the album is out. We're hoping also to do more stuff on the other side of the Atlantic. we recently played at the Baja-prog festival in Mexico, and there have been some other tentative invitations. We'll see if they turn out to be practical for us.

VM: Thank you very much, Alan. I appreciate your time. Also I do wish you to carry on making people happy with your music as long as possible. It is a Mission, though.

April 28, 2000

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