Alan Leach: 'It is quite liberating not having to run ideas by a committee of five'

Fifteen months after vacating the drum stool in Shed Seven, Alan Leach is back with his first solo album, I Wish I Knew Now What I Thought I Knew Then.Of his reasons for departing the York band who he had been a member of since 1990, he says they were different to guitarist Joe Johnson, who left at the same time.
Alan LeachAlan Leach
Alan Leach

“He had different reasons, which he doesn’t seem to want to talk about, but they were unrelated to mine. My reasons were...pandemic-related. I have some quite unfashionable views about the whole thing which (the rest of the band) didn’t share. I didn’t really think we should be doing the gigs at Christmas because we couldn’t be given any guarantees that us as a band wouldn’t have to wear masks onstage, they couldn’t rule out the whole of the audience having to wear masks. There were risk assessments going round, really scary looking things, and I just said I don’t want to do this tour. They wanted to do it.”

As things turned out, the December dates – which the band played without Leach and Johnson – were beset with Covid-related issues, but Leach is now on better terms with his former bandmates. “It was quite fraught last year,” he says. “I wouldn’t say we fell out, but it wasn’t nice. But I am back on really friendly terms with everyone now. I go out with Tom (Gladwin) quite a lot and Rick (Witter) is my brother-in-law, so by default I don’t want to fall out with that guy. Me and Paul (Banks) have had a really nice exchange of texts recently, not with a view to me getting back in the band, but just to clear the air.”

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The songs on his solo album “with one exception” were written after leaving Shed Seven. “There were perhaps a couple of ideas I’d maybe presented to the band, but 90 per cent of drummers will tell you there’s a kind of pecking order and guitarists and singers don’t really want to hear ideas coming from the drummer. I wouldn’t say that was a reason for my departure, is quite liberating not having to run ideas by a committee of five, and I’m sure they’d all say the same. You can just make decision by yourself, but that’s a double-edged sword, sometimes you want to have somebody to run ideas by.”

Clouds Behind The Moon has some pointed lyrics, along with an allusion to The Who in the line “won’t get fooled again”. Leach says the song was written during the pandemic seeing “friends who’ve gone through a lot together and then falling out over something as ridiculous as going out of the house at Christmas, and things like that”. “Most of the storytelling songs on the album, which I think three or four of them are, aren’t necessarily about myself,” he adds. “I find it really enjoyable writing stories.”

He attributes the mellow feel of the album to a love of songwriting from the 60s and 70s. “That’s just what I’ve grown up listening to, what I really appreciate the most. I do like a good story in a song, where there’s a narrative to it,” he says. “I get quite immersed in things, so I might have spent a month on the words to one song – and when I say a month, I don’t mean sitting down for half an hour a day, I literally walk down the street thinking about nothing else until it’s all fallen into place. I can get quite carried away in things but I’m not the sort of person who can sit down and write a song in a day, every little moment I’m singing it until I’m sick of hearing it, and then I’ll think ‘that makes sense now’.”

It’s an attention to detail he feels was prevalent in the music of the 60s and 70s and got lost a little in the 80s. “The 90s clawed it back, that 60s, more traditional guitar band kind of thing,” he says. “I was that kid who was ready for the 90s thing when it happened, the Britpop thing, it suited me really well. But that’s not to say I haven’t gone back and now I do appreciate the 80s, even though it was quite different to the 60s and 70s. One of my favourite bands is Dexys Midnight Runners. I love The Jam as well.”

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For his first solo gigs, Leach has assembled something of a York supergroup that Chris Helme, formerly of The Seahorses, and Sam Forrest, once of Nine Black Alps, as well as his own son, Sonny, and daughter, Jeanie. Mickey Dale of Embrace, who produced the album, will play keyboards. The set will comprise the whole of the album plus a smattering of covers that he performed on YouTube during lockdown.

Aside from music, Leach’s SpeedQuizzing business, which supplies technology for pub quizzes, is thriving, recording revenues of £430,000 over the first six months of this year. “If I’m completely truthful, I would never have been able to do this album like this, and self-fund it, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’d landed really lucky with our business,” he says. “We’ve worked really hard, me and my brother (John) and the other people we work with over the last 10 years, and now it is paying off.

“I’ve been saying this album was a vanity project when I started, it is a mid-life crisis. Some people buy a sports car, I self-funded an album, and it is SpeedQuizzing that’s allowed me to do this, and I am lucky as well, my wife doesn’t say we could be spending that money or a car or a holiday. I’m lucky that I’ve got my own business which is doing well and we’re not an extravagant family who go on expensive holidays.”

Alan Leach plays at The Crescent in York on December 2 and 3.

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