Ian McNabb :: IN CONVERSATION

BBC Radio 2 SOLD ON SONG in Liverpool
AN EVENING WITH IAN MCNABB
October 2004, Barfly, Liverpool

Ian McNabb, formerly of Icicle Works, plays a cosy set at Barfly in Liverpool and talks about his songwriting career to Mark Hagen. Plus he answers your online questions below. 

Below Ian answers questions sent to the Sold On Song website.

Q Hi Ian, there are certain songs that fans shout out for at your gigs, Up Here In The North Of England springs to mind, and you tend not to perform them. Are there any songs that you have grown tired of or ones that you view as not relevant any more and why? Looking forward to the new album. Ernesto Di Fenza
i've got a load of songs that I tend to sort of play most of the time and there are so many now cos I've been going so long that I can't remember them all. If I have to do something that I haven't played for a long time then the odds are that I'm not going to remember the words so I have to learn the song again. You know, the brain is the organic hard drive and I think my hard drive is sort of full at the moment so for me to be able to do a new song I have to 'delete' some old stuff from the brain. I do try and play the odd song that I haven't played for a long time but generally I do have a bunch of old songs that seem to be the ones you always tend to fall back on"

Q You write very much from the heart. Do you find lyrics come easier when you're in love or when a relationship's fallen apart and you're surrounded by the debris? Christine
I can write songs in any sort of state but I think the ones that people tend to like the most are the ones that really tend to come from the heart. If you've had a personal bad experience or a personal great experience and you put it into a song they tend to be ones that people like the most and the songs that you write when you are on sort of auto pilot are good songs but they tend not to be quite as important to people.

Q What was the reaction of Neil Young to you recording with Crazy Horse? Neil Brampton, Wales
He was a bit funny about it at first. I played with his band and no one else ever plays with his band so I suppose it was a bit like taking his girlfriend out for a meal or something. But when he heard what we'd done, he really liked it and he was very complimentary on the next occasion I saw him. So, yeah, he liked it.


Q Do you still hope that one day you can sing 'I'm So Glad I Waited' at the end of Hollow Horse?
 Kev Drury, Kent
It's all about waiting for something great to happen and I go 'I'm so tired of waiting'. But now I don't sing it anymore because I think I've waited long enough. I think basically you kind of wait for something to happen and then the years go by and you actually realise it had happened and you didn't really notice it. There's that John Lennon lyric 'Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans', so that's kind of what I equate that to.
 
Q Any chance of a live album being put out? Phil Sparks
The thing is I play solo quite a lot and when I play with a band we rehearse for a very short period of time. I had a band over the summer and we played the festivals. We had about four festivals and by the fourth gig we were really starting to get good so what happens is you get a recording thing and then you record like the third or second gig and then you think if we would have five more gigs then it would have been fantastic. So I think I'll probably do a live CD and live DVD when I've got a run of 10 shows with a band and you can record two or three shows, and pick the best bits. Whereas if you just record one show there's always a few things wrong. But yeah, I will address that at some point.
 
Q Any news on the new album? Stella
The new album is already to go. It's gone off to the factory and it will probably be coming out late Feb/March next year - it's called 'Before All Of This'.
 
Q Were you both suprised and proud that 'You Must be Prepared to Dream' was used as the music for a montage of British successes during the Olympics at prime time. Have you been paid yet for it? Neil and Angela Smith
Absolutely! It takes a while for the money to come through. That usually happens when a supporter of your music is in positions whereby they can make decisions to do something like that. There's a guy, I've been told, who's in charge of selection for certain music slots and he just thought that would be perfect for the slow motion shots. Yeah it's great - if I hear my music anywhere, I'm pleased it's getting used, you know. There's a lot of people watching the Olympics more than would be watching a pop programme so, yeah, that's great.

Q Why the nickname Boots? Were you renowned for wearing them or did used to work there?! Richard Burbage
There's a line in the song Hollow Horse where I say 'I'll keep my boots on' and one of the crew that used to work for the Icicle Works, the band I used to be in years ago, kind of picked up on it. I always used to wear Beatle boots. I stopped because I'm six foot and I used to hunch over and I got a bit of a crick in my back and I was told to stop wearing them. I think they're coming back in now.

Q You've recorded Marc Bolan's The Slider and it's also known that Hot Love has been performed. What's the fascination with Marc Bolan? John Wass
He was basically the first artist that got me into pop music. I wasn't really into music when I was 11 or 12. I was into the space programme and football and then I saw Marc Bolan on Top Of The Pops doing, I think, Metal Guru or Telegram Sam and I just thought 'What's that?' I immediately got my parents to buy me a guitar so he's obviously got a very special place in my heart and I still listen to his records quite a lot. T-Rex records are dead easy to play because he wasn't particularly a great musician so when you first start playing the guitar you tend to play a few T-Rex riffs because they're usually in E - the easiest chords to play, that's why I do that.


Ian McNabb talks to eGigs

ahead of the 30th anniversary gigs with The Icicle Works on Monday 7 February 2011 

eGigs spoke to Ian McNabb lead singer and founder of Liverpudlian neo-psychedelia pioneers, The Icicle Works who are reforming for their '30th Anniversary Tour' (1981-2011) in spring 2011 visiting Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London.

The Icicle Works rose to fame in 1983 when they scored two major hit singles 'Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)' and 'Love is a Wonderful Colour'. Their eponymously self titled debut album was also a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, achieving gold record status in Canada. 'The Icicle Works' released four albums between 1983 - 1988, all achieving top forty placing, until they broke up immediately after their swansong 'Blind'.

Two other two members of the band were Chris Layhe (bass & vocals) and Chris Sharrock (drums), the latter enjoyed great success playing in Oasis. Ian went on to record one more album under the name 'The Icicle Works,' signing to Epic in 1989 and using session musicians in place of the now departed Chris's. 'Permanent Damage' was released in March 1990. More recently in autumn 2006 Ian McNabb resurrected The Icicle Works for a sold-out 25th Anniversary tour.

Solo, Ian has had released numerous critically acclaimed albums and released autobiography 'Merseybeast' in October 2008. Ian spent January through June of 2009 recording his new album 'Great Things' which is out now.

Hi Ian, you're celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Icicle Works with these forthcoming gigs, what's been the highlights of those years?
The band ceased to exist in the late '80's and I've gone on to do my solo stuff with various incarnations, but the music people always seem to ask about most is The Icicle Works stuff. I guess that's because it holds some sort of affection for them maybe from when they were growing up. I haven't always traded on The Icicle Works' name, but what it's done for me, is that it seems to allow me to walk through doors, because people have so much respect for what happened with The Icicle Works, even if they haven't heard my solo record. The best thing for me is knowing that that small legacy of songs, we only did four albums, must have been pretty good..

Is the line-up for this tour the same as the last time you took The Icicle Works on the road?
The last time we did it was with a completely different line-up to the original line-up of The Icicle Works. There has probably been about four or five different line-ups over the years, over the anniversaries, because whenever a naught or a five rolls around, it's always "Oh it's the fifteenth" or "Oh it's the twentieth" and with that an anniversary. So, the line-up of The Icicle Works currently is going to be the same one that went out on the 25th Anniversary tour. That will be Matthew Priest (Dodgy) on drums, Richard Naiff (The Waterboys) on keyboards, and my friend Roy Corkill on bass, who's played for The Icicle Works pretty much from the Eighties. It's just the four of us..

Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
Yeah, I'm gigging all year, I never top playing, either with the band or solo. Constantly gigging, as that's the only way you make money now, nobody buys records because it's all free on the internet or cheap in Tescos. So, playing live is the life blood. I'm currently working on a solo album which will hopefully be out by the end of the year. I'm always busy, always playing, you've got to keep playing live..

Will the setlist for the forthcoming April tour be the same as the 25th Anniversary tour?
We have been playing around with quite a lot of the songs that we didn't play last time, and we're going to make the setlist a little bit different every night this time. It was pretty rigorous last time, because we were quite nervous about being able to pull it off, and so we stuck to the setlist pretty rigorously. We feel a bit more confident now because we know we can pull it off, so we'll mix it up a bit, maybe play four or five different songs a night, and a different running order to make things more interesting..

Are you planning any festival appearance alongside the anniversary tour?
We're not sure about that yet, we're just waiting to see. There's so many festivals now. It used to be that you only did three or four festivals, and now there's so many of them, it's a case of which ones do you do? It's not necessarily the most famous ones that are the best or the most fun to do. We're waiting to see. The music business hasn't quite woken up, it is only February. Hopefully, we will slot a couple in, in the summer. We'll see what happens.

With members drawn from Dodgy, and The Waterboys you must have quite a bit of festival knowledge.
Between us all, we've got a lot of miles under our belt, and a lot of experience, and we've played with a lot of different people. We know how to do it, and if the crowd are with us, and people show up to see us, and we've got some good songs to play, I think it's a pretty cool night out.

Are the band reformed for good now? Or do we have to wait another five years for the next tour?
The only reason we decided to do The Icicle Works thing this year, really, was because when we did it five years ago, I can't believe it was five years ago, it just went so well and everybody loved it so much, that we decided to get in touch with the promoter and see if he fancied doing it. We put the tickets on sale just before Christmas, and they're doing really well again. I see it just as a special occasions thing when we pull The Icicle Works out really.

What inspired you to become a singer in the first place?
Originally when I was a kid I wasn't overtly impressed with pop music. I thought it was a bit daft. I was more into football and the Apollo Space programme, and all that kind of thing, that's the way I was. Then I saw Marc Bolan and T. Rex on Top Of The Pops in, I think it must have been, 1972. I'd never watched Top Of The Pops before and to me it was daft, 'Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep' silly stuff. and when I saw Marc Bolan doing his stuff, I just thought, "Wow! What's that?" I couldn't work out what it was, but, I just knew it was great. That was it really. My parents bought me a guitar, and then I messed around with it for a while, I didn't know what to do with it. Then I decided to get some lessons, this was when I was about 14 or 15, and then I joined a local band, and started doing working men's clubs and all that kind of stuff. I was learning how to do it, how to play the instrument, learning how to sing, and keep the audience's attention. Now, here we are, lots of years later, and I still find myself still in it, for which I find myself very grateful, and it enables me to make a living at it.

You must have played alongside quite a few artists over the years, who was the most memorable?
I've played alongside a few, and I've played in many. There are so many highlights. We've played at a lot of festivals with other bands that we've absolutely loved, and supported a lot greats. Two that I've played in immediately spring to mind. I got to make an album and play live with Neil Young's band Crazy Horse, which was just unbelievably exciting. Then a few years later I did a few shows in Ringo Starr's band, and got to play alongside a Beatle on stage, playing Beatle songs, which is a bit of a dream come true. It's all been pretty amazing really. It's great to meet your heroes or play alongside them, and you get on musically, and it's a real thrill that, it really lifts your game.

Are there any of your heroes still around, that you'd like to collaborate with?
Oh god! Too many! There's just so many, it's just the A to Z of rock. I'm just looking at the, now redundant, CD collection in the cellar that goes from one side of the room to the other, that i never put on now because it's all on the internet at the touch of a button. I could probably go in there run through all those and and tell you that most of them on the records I've got I'd like to work with. There's just a vast array of all the songwriters and musicians that I've been a fan of ever since.

You've been in the music industry a while now, is there any advice you'd give to new bands just starting out?
That's a difficult one. There's lots of things I could say but i think the shortest answer I could give, and probably the most succinct, it just to make sure you're doing it because you love it. Because you really, really love it, and you're passionate about the music. Don't get into it if you just fancy a bit of fun, and are hoping to make loads of money in a short space of time and being famous, and going out with famous models, and all that sort of stuff. It's all really peripheral. It's a commitment that you're getting into because you really love the music and you want people to hear it, because when things turn bad, it's the music that will keep you sane.

Who was the first you ever went to see?
Slight confusion on this one as the years have eroded. Now, I'm pretty sure the first proper band that people have heard that wasn't a pub band, well, actually I didn't go to watch bands in pubs I was too young. I think the first band I saw on stage at The Empire Theatre, in Liverpool, in maybe 1975 was Be-bop Deluxe supported by The Steve Gibbons Band. I'm pretty sure that's the first one I saw, and I couldn't believe how loud it was, how bright the lights were. I think everyone's first rock or pop show is a pretty overwhelming experience. The main thing that blows your mind is how many people are there sharing the whole experience with you. That was a great lesson.

There have been recent reports that the new wave of acts are all private school educated....
Who cares about that really? I mean there's this rock and roll thing that dictates that in order to be a true artist you've got to come from the streets, and suffered, and voted labour, and all that kind of stuff. But a hell of a lot of the great artists who have come up have been middle class and quite privileged and haven't really suffered at all. One of my favourite bands of all time is Pink Floyd, and they were a group of rock toffs. It doesn't matter about your background it matters about where you are going, you know.

I was wondering whether having experienced a few depressions over your career whether you think the country's current economic position that might inspire a musical revival?
I'd like to think so. It just seems to me that in times of unrest that's when the best poetry and art, and music comes, it always seems to be a lot better. I'm pleased to see all this stuff going on. I think people have let the bankers and the government and all of that lot have it their way for so long over the past few years, and people are getting fed up with it. There's more of us than there is of them, and we shouldn't be afraid of them, and if we can inspire a new generation to write songs about it, and get out there and be angry, then so much the better. Otherwise, everything sounds like The Eagles.

What are your plans for the next thirty years?
Oh god, one day at a time. I never like to plan too far ahead. It's nice to know I have gigs up until the end of the year so that I have a pretty good idea about what I'm doing. As for the future, who knows? I'm just glad I made it this far. To still be making music, and to be healthy, is all I can ask for really.

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