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Allan Watson has just released 11 brilliant new songs with his latest album, On a Fine May Morning, under musical nom de plume Candy Séance. It’s a free listen/download from SoundCloud. I met Allan in 2009 when Songs from Lucy’s Cottage, his first album with Phil Rickman, had just come out. We became friends due to similar musical and reading interests, and along the way, Allan has encouraged my flute habit while I’ve been a lucky listener and reader of his many creations, even collaborating on a few songs. His impressive music, like his fiction, hints at the darker side of life: loss, revenge, desire, jealousy, death and the supernatural. Allan’s melodies, arrangements, vocals and guitar playing are on a par with the big names out there today. His blog has more details about the CD.

Allan and his alter ego, Strachan McQuade, have caused quite a stir of late, interviewing writers, artists and musicians with a special brand of humor. See the Dead Man Talking interview series on Allan’s blog. So, what a coup to turn the tables on Allan and get him to answer questions about his fantastic new album! Listen in while Allan is squirming in the hot seat for once. Oh dear, I asked for it…..

Julie: Tell us about the songs on your new album, On a Fine May Morning. How did ‘Pig in a Poke’ come into existence?

Allan: Pig in a Poke is about early (teenage) experiments with heroin. I sort of got suckered into it at the time but it was well… interesting. If nothing else the experience provided me with subject matter for a few songs over the years, namely ‘The Trick Inside’ and ‘Prayer for a Laughing Needle’, later renamed as ‘Sad Songs’ by producer Graham bloody Lyle who thought the original title was too long. Other songs on the album cover more cheery larks like suicide (‘When I Close My Eyes’), shagging the Faery Queen (‘The Water and the Grain’), and an over the top, breast-beating, self-pitying, moan-fest about suffering writer’s block (‘Long Way Round’).

Julie: Other highlights are the title track, the rockin’ ‘Sunspots’, that beautiful ballad ‘Unstitched’ and of course ‘Trains’ with its lush acoustic guitar layers:

Julie: Your songs, like your fiction, tend toward the dark and macabre, but often toward the romantic. Few of the songs have the humor that is in your fiction, however; why is that?

Allan: In fiction you can inject humor into almost any genre without destroying the overall tone of the story. Throw a few jokes into a horror story and it’s still a horror story, same with a crime novel, but putting humor into songs is dicing with death. Get it wrong and you sound like Benny Hill. In saying that there are jokes in my songs, they’re just well hidden.

Julie: Describe your songwriting process- music first or words first?

Allan: Normally music first – chords, riffs, whatever, then melody and finally words. Writing with Phil Rickman for the Lol Robinson albums was strange at first as Phil supplied the words and I had to write the music around the lyrics. It actually made things easier as I then already knew what the song was about and could aim for a certain mood and tempo.

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Julie: How did you first get into music- first guitars, bands, songs, etc? What bands and albums do you have notched into your bedposts?

Allan: Blimey, that’s about 12 questions rolled into one. I bought my first proper guitar was when I was 16, talked my mum into letting me pay it up from her catalogue. A really classy guitar as you can imagine, but it did the trick. A black Les Paul copy – the brand name was Columbus – Being lazy I started writing songs even before I’d bothered mastering the chords. I simply made up my own bespoke combinations of notes, or thought I did – looking back all I was doing was playing bits of chords and fragments of scales. Main bands I’ve played with – Brig, Columbus Road, Clear, She’s A Rocket, The Floor, Junk, Left on Red, Candy Séance and Hazey Jane II. My two days with The Bay City Rollers don’t really count.

Julie: Your albums with the awesome writer Phil Rickman (Songs from Lucy’s Cottage, A Message from the Morning, abbey tapes: the exorcism) are unique fusions of the fictional and musical worlds (Info from Rickman’s website Are there any plans for more Hazey Jane II or Philosopher’s Stone albums or gigs?

Allan: You’re asking the wrong guy.

John Gilmour Smith, Cheryl Reid, Allan Watson and Steven Patrick performing ‘Sunny Days’ from Songs From Lucy’s Cottage by Allan Watson and Phil Rickman.

Julie: I spend hours on a few tiny little flute tracks. How on earth do you arrange and record all those layers of vocals, guitars, strings, and keyboards and get them to come out sounding like anything? What sort of recording equipment do you have? (I’d love to see a photo of your studio.)

Allan: Currently I’m using a Roland BR1200, a 12 track recorder which is fine for home recording. I simply tweak knobs and slide the faders up and down in a random pattern and sometimes I get something useable. Any idiot can do it.

Julie: Yeah, right. But how do you add in tracks from far away worlds – Matti Rouse’s violin tracks from Germany, mine from Tennessee, Dr Samedi from Kidderminster?

Allan: Depends on the format I receive the tracks. Wav files can be directly imported and have a high level of sound quality. Getting emailed mp3s is a lot more trouble as I have to first save them to an ipod and then manually input them via the auxiliary channels. After that it all gets a bit time consuming placing the tracks exactly where they need to be in the time frame and cleaning up the sound. (Am I making you feel guilty yet, Julie?) (Nah) I really hate it when after spending hours doing this drudgery the musician in question then emails me an alternative take and says, can you use this instead? My standard reply is yes, no problem and then don’t bother.

Julie: I’ll work on making Wavy files instead of mp3s…
Your lovely Taylor sounds gorgeous- is it your favorite acoustic guitar? What kind of electric guitar are you playing?

Allan: Mostly an old Fender Strat I’ve used for the last 27 years. Keep meaning to buy myself a new one. So if anyone is thinking of buying me a xmas present… (hint hint) Got a few others like a hideously expensive cherry-red Gibson SG and a Fender Telecaster which hang on the wall and gather dust – as do all my older acoustic guitars now that the tonal magnificence of the Taylor has ousted them from my affections.

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Julie: What does Candy Seance mean- does it have a history? Do you like to summon deceased Mars Bars with your Ouija board?

Allan: Candy Séance was simply taken from a line I once wrote in a novel called Dreaming in the Snakepark. If memory serves me right, I was describing someone smoking a joint and filling the room with the scent of lost planets and candy séances. Ahem… writer’s license and all that. I no longer summon anything with my Ouija board. It’s for decorative purposes only. Last time it was used in earnest I had to move house.

Julie: Which song of yours would you like to be covered by which singer?

Allan: I’d love to have Tina Charles sing a cover version of ‘Heavy Medication Day’, a song I wrote with Phil Rickman.

Julie: I suspect you are being cheeky. What is your favorite song that you’ve ever written?

Allan: That would incredibly difficult. But I do have a soft spot for songs like ‘Affirmation Waystation,’ ‘Through a Whisky Glass Darkly’ and ‘Old Yellow Moon.’

‘Affirmation Waystation’, from Columbus Road’s 2009 CD Fragments.

Julie: Fantastic songs. Like Richard Thompson, you can do electric and acoustic equally well and are a too-well-kept secret. I’d think that many of your songs would be snapped up by singers who’d pay huge amounts for great songs to sing. I know the music industry is a tough one to crack, but how can your music reach a wider audience, and is there anything your loyal fans can do to help?

Allan: Send me lots of money and nude polaroids. It’ll take my mind off the crushing failure of my musical career.

Julie: And finally- what is your dream band? No getting out of it this time.

Allan: If you insist. Dave Gilmour and Richard Thompson on guitars. Tony Levin on bass. Andy Sturmer on drums. Kenneth McKellar on lead vocals.

Good luck with that. As your parting gift, here’s a copy of flutist James Galway playing the songs of Elvis Presley, entitled Galway Does Graceland.

Read more about his CDs, books and interviews on Allan’s blog:

Download the songs from SoundCloud:

Update: The album is now on iTunes and Amazon – good reviews needed and appreciated, friends! JA, Sept. 2013

‘Through a Whisky Glass Darkly’