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IAN MCNABB: THE ECLECTIC WARRIOR RETURNING TO ROCK - INTERVIEW & REVIEW BY NIGEL CARTNER

Ian McNabb is back yet again, this time fresh from recording a fantastic new rock orientated album, Eclectic Warrior, recorded with upcoming, young and talented Liverpool band, ‘Cold Shoulder’. Despite the recent release, Ian is performing solo tonight at Ducie Bridge, Manchester, which has been organised by House of Cards Promotions.

Before the show began, I had the opportunity to interview Ian again and ask him about the new album, how his upcoming supporting gig with Neil Young came about, and what one thing he would change if he was in charge of the country!

NIGE: New album, ‘Eclectic Warrior’, is a return to rock after several years of being predominately acoustic. Why did you decide to another rock album now?

IAN: The last time I made a racket was 2004/05, but I just wanted to play with a band again with people I haven’t played with before. There’s this great three piece band in Liverpool called, ‘Cold Shoulder’, and I asked if they fancied playing with me and I’ll just be in the band and write the songs. We rehearsed one afternoon and the next day we were in the studio with thirteen or fourteen tracks done in like three days, all live, which is how I wanted to do it.

NIGE: I wasn’t aware the album was recorded with ‘Cold Shoulder’, but I have seen that you’re doing a mini tour with them in the coming weeks?

IAN: The idea is that they open the show, then I come on with them and they back me. I’ve never played with them before, and it’ll bring the age of my group down a bit with a bit of youthful energy, so it should be good.

NIGE: How easy is it to get a backing band together these days when you are a solo artist?

IAN: It’s difficult to get a good one, but I’ve had a good one for about ten years who I always play with, but they’re scattered across the four corners of the country, which isn’t always easy to get them together, and they do other things as well as music. But ‘Cold Shoulder’ live in Liverpool, and they’re young and easy to get to. Because they’re a great band anyway, I couldn’t really fuck up because they play so great together, and with them only being a three piece there’s space for me so it wouldn’t get clogged up. One of my better decisions for quite some time I think.

NIGE: Has there been any conscious approach to inspiration behind lyrics? From what I’ve heard there’s a bit of mixture with ‘Smirtin’ and ‘No Hero to Me’ being around politics, and then there’s still a darker feeling in a couple of tracks.

IAN: I didn’t want to write any love songs if possible, but one of them managed to find its way onto the album. When you’ve written so many songs, it gets more difficult to write about subjects that I’ve not written about before. ‘Smirtin’ I thought was great because I went to The States last year, and really got done in with the Nazism of smoking. I understand people don’t want smoke around them, but it’s just got to a ridiculous level now. The idea of ‘Smirtin’ is going outside a pub, and there’s always girls smoking outside who you talk to, whereas if you were in the pub you wouldn’t necessarily speak to them, so that’s where ‘Smirtin’ came from. ‘No Hero to Me’ is quite self-evident, about Americans and British going into the Middle East and carving it up. The rest of them kind of flowed, but I tried to avoid love songs, but ‘She Don’t Let Nobody’ is one that did slip on, but it’s a couple of years old and kind of fitted well onto the album.

NIGE: There are a couple of darker ones that could be construed as being love songs. There seems to be regret on ‘My Life to Live Again’?

IAN: That’s a funny one because I just came up with the title, the chorus and then had the verses, but didn’t really know what to write about, so just kind of pretended I was writing a novel. It sounds like I’m banging on about something really interesting and profound, but it’s just a song. That seems to be the one that people like the most!

NIGE: Moving forward into next month, how much are you looking forward to opening for Neil Young on 18th August at Liverpool Echo Arena? How did that come about?

IAN: I wish I wasn’t doing it. Haha! Obviously it’s a dream come true and can’t really believe it. I knew he was touring and when I saw that Liverpool date I thought I’ve got to play with them. I just kind of kicked and screamed, stamped and shouted until I got it. You know, if Neil Young’s playing Liverpool with Crazy Horse then I’ve got to be onstage. Every time I go and see him I get closer to the stage, this time I’m actually on it, so it’s really exciting!

NIGE: You’re constantly gigging, but tell us about some other upcoming gigs you’re looking forward to as well as the Cold Shoulder dates?

IAN: Not one in particular, but the thing is if you play solo you can just pick up your guitar and go anywhere. Tonight is a bit of an odd one, but I’d rather be doing this than sat at home or paying money to sit in a beer garden. When you play with a band it becomes infinitely more complicated. You have to rehearse, stick to a set list, get everyone there, you got to feed them, and it’s like taking the kids to the zoo. It’s worth it with a band because you get to make a loud noise, but it’s a bit of a shock these days when I play with a band because I’m so used to playing on my own and controlling the dynamics.

NIGE: You’re actively on social media, and stated its importance, but does it influence the way you write songs these days?

IAN: No! I’m on Facebook a lot because I’m not married and don’t have kids so I don’t have a programme of things to do every day, and I don’t have to go to work so I just rant really. I get some stick off people, but if you’ve asked to be my friend on Facebook then you’re not going to like everything I’ve got to say, and if you disagree with me that’s fine. I’m not saying I’m right, it’s just an opinion. The only time I get pissed off is when people start throwing personal insults, and that usually happens after people have had a drink. I’ve had to delete quite a few people, but I get a message the next day off someone else saying, “That guy who you deleted is a big fan, but he was a bit drunk, will you please re-add him?” No! One strike and you’re out.

I do enjoy having a rant, and I think the days of being moody and mysterious, hiding behind a pair of shades are all gone. I think these days you’ve got to let the audience have contact with you and be able to speak to you. If anybody wants to speak to me on Facebook they can do, and I think you really have to do that. To a certain extent it keeps it breathing and alive, and I think people like that. I’d love it if Neil Young did what I did and I could comment on it, but obviously he doesn’t, and neither do a lot of other people, but I’m not at that level so I have to interact with my supporters, and I enjoy it!

Some of the stuff I say on Facebook is just to throw a hand grenade in and watch it explode, just to get a debate going. If I put something like ‘Prince Charles is a lizard’, I get like 190 comments, but if I put ‘I’m playing Manchester on Thursday’ I get two likes and one comment. I was thinking that I should keep a record of all the rants and put them in a book.

NIGE: You had some thoughts on social media about Glastonbury, but what do you make of the indie/rock music coming through that’s commercialised? How would you change it if you had the power to?

IAN: I don’t think it needs changing, and you can’t blame the bands. If there’s a shit band that’s massive and you can’t stand them, you can’t blame them. You have to blame the people that buy the records.

NIGE: Or do you blame the powers that promote them?

IAN: Well it is the people that promote them, but that’s business. They’re just trying to make money and most people these days don’t really give a shit what the music’s like as long as it’s successful.

NIGE: You’ve had some thoughts on political matters, again expressed on social media, but if you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be your first priority?

IAN: Well I’d put all the bankers in jail because the distribution of wealth is all wrong. I think it should be spread even. I mean, how much money could one person have? I’m almost kind of Marxist in that way. If you haven’t got any money you view everything as unfair, but if you’ve got loads of money you seem to be overtaken by this thing whereby you don’t really care about anything except getting more money. It’s like greed breeds greed! So I’d take all the bankers bonuses away and stop them earning so much money than they ever need and spread it down to the people who really do need it, like the public sector, nurses and teachers, the people who really graft hard and get treated like shit. Injustice is the first thing I’d do away with! It’s unfair that young people who are starting out coming out of college or University have this massive student debt so they’re already wage slaves before they’ve even tried to start, and can’t even get on the property ladder to square one. A kid who passes his driving test at eighteen but can’t drive because the insurance is so much is unfair too. But, if I was Prime Minister the country would just blow up, I’d be a terrible one.

NIGE: Finally, same end question as last time we spoke. Is the second collaboration with Crazy Horse still on?

IAN: I was talking to them about eighteen months ago, before they toured with Neil Young. They’d not toured with him for about ten years so thought it wouldn’t happen again. We were talking about doing something and it’s a fair possibility to say we would’ve done this year if they wouldn’t have been with Neil, but I can’t wait around forever so I got my ‘Liverpool Crazy Horse’, ‘Cold Shoulder’, to do it. I wouldn’t rule it out in the future, but who knows? If you say something won’t happen again, it tends to happen again! I’d like to think at some point there would be an ‘Icicle Works’ tour too with the original members. People enjoyed seeing it with my band, but I think they’d like to see the original members, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that too!

Although tonight’s gig is completely acoustic driven, many songs off the recent album were performed in a stripped back manner, given an entirely new dimension that Ian effortlessly does all too well. About fifty or so people crammed into what was one of the most intimate venues I’ve ever seen, not the customary setting for a typical Ian McNabb gig, who still has the pulling power to fill larger venues. Needless to say it doesn’t stop a die-hard fan turning up, in what was an almost unbearably hot and sticky evening, that wasn’t helped by the intimacy of the setting. With support acts coming from Jackson Wolfe, and Cornelius Crane, the crowd that certainly didn’t need to be warmed beforehand were ready for Ian to take to the stage armed with his trusty guitar, harmonica and of course a typical scouse wit.

An onslaught of definitive tracks are played, forming a collage of multi-era classics in Ian’s locker, ranging from the timeless ‘Icicle Works’ body of work, such as ‘When it All Come Down’, to anthems on the ‘Head Like a Rock’ album such as ‘Fire Inside My Soul’, all the way to the present with songs off last year’s acclaimed album, ‘Little Episodes’ and stripped back versions of the newer songs that are proving to be quite a force in Ian’s repertoire.

Anyone who has seen Ian perform before knows exactly what to expect. There is such passion and belief in his vocals and playing ability that you can’t help but be hypnotised by his flair.  On top of that, you get a lot of audience interaction where you almost feel like it’s one of your mates that’s just picked up a guitar and started playing to everyone; such is his laid back and approachable nature to gigs. There’s always humour, and a great deal of banter, which always keeps the audience engaged. Again, it was another vintage Ian McNabb display, who went on to play for two hours. With upcoming dates with a full band behind him, it surely makes for a mouth-watering series of gigs to see the new songs performed as they were originally intended.

‘Eclectic Warrior’ is only available at www.ianmcnabb.com along with a full list of live dates for 2013.

Thanks to Ian McNabb, Paul Bruns and House of Cards.

www.facebook.com/pages/Ian-McNabb

Interview/review by Nigel Cartner
Photos by Philip Howe