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IAN MCNABB: “WE’RE RUNNING ON ANCIENT ENERGY”- INTERVIEW BY NIGEL CARTNER
 
With a new album released and a series of gigs booked throughout the UK, Ian McNabb returns with his latest musical endeavour, ‘Little Episodes’, a predominately acoustic album that oozes all the typical genius song writing we come to expect from the talented Liverpudlian singer/song writer whose seen it all. Tonight’s event was Ian’s fourth show of the year, taking place at The Manchester Academy, a place Ian claims he must be in line to have the record for number of appearances due to him playing here at least once a year since 1983 or so. I found Ian to be in fine form and good humour as usual, much like our previous encounter last year; full of jokes, wit and anecdotes that really captivate the listener.

NIGE: First of all, new album recently released. How’s it been received?

IAN: Most seem to like it so far, but it’s still early days. Somebody said it’s the best one for fifteen years, some say it’s pretty good, some say it’s alright and someone didn’t like it at all. You can’t please everyone can you? But it’s selling well and its only been a month. We’re only selling it online and at gigs but in general they seem to like it.

NIGE: How come your only selling it online and at gigs and not in the more notable outlets like HMV.

IAN: The reason for that is that it’s so easy to buy stuff online now. Record shops will only stock a few anyway. I mean if you go to HMV in Liverpool there’s not even an ‘Icicle Works’ or Ian McNabb section so I just thought what the hell. If they did sell it then they’d start wanting to do deals with you where you take an advert out in their magazine and things like that, but I’ve done all that before and I don’t think it makes that much difference. The people who go into record shops tend to buy DVDs, games and books. If they want it, all they have to do is go on my website and click. They do it with everything else like get their shopping delivered so one album won’t kill them. Also, the punters would have to pay more for it in the shops. I used to love going in record shops but there aren’t any now. We always judge it in terms of what would we do and what my average consumer would do. If you’re like me you usually end up like us...like Saxondale, that kind of thing with Pink Floyd t-shirts on.

NIGE: Where does this album rank amongst your other records? You once said that you’re only now starting to get good, do you think this is evidence of that?

IAN: You know musicians say such shit sometimes. It’s like every musician and every film star gives the same answer and it’s not because they’re making it up, it’s because they don’t know what to say. I think it’s a really good record and I’m excited about it. I don’t know if it’s better than anything I’ve done, it’s probably better than some things from before. You can’t really tell until five years later because time is the judge. If you can stick it on in five or ten years and it sounds good then you can tell, but it’s harder when you’re in the middle of it. It’s like when you go out with some bird and you’ve just met her and you think she’s the best thing ever and then six months later you think she’s a gob shite. You don’t really know but just do the best you can at the time. Sometimes I’ll record something and think it’s amazing and when it comes to playing it live it hits the deck. You play the one off the album that you don’t really like that much and everyone’s cheering. It’s hard to say, it’s as good as I can do at the moment.

NIGE: You once told me in a previous interview that you gather inspiration from hearing good music and thinking you can equal or better it. Does the same inspiration apply to ‘Little Episodes’?

IAN: No not really. Usually there’s a couple of albums that come out between my last one and the current one where I think, “fuckin’ hell I need to try harder”, but I’ve not really heard anything that’s blown me away that much, so this album isn’t really influenced by anyone. It’s me doing me really, acoustic guitars and harmonies trying to sing about things other than relationships, more about things going on in the world which I don’t usually do, and try to be a bit more interesting lyrically. It was recorded and came back to us really quickly. It’s influenced by all the things I’m usually influenced by like ‘Crosby. Stills, Nash & Young’, ‘The Byrds’, ‘Van Morrison’, ‘The Beatles’.

NIGE: You must’ve been motivated given the quick turnaround?

IAN: Not really, it was more that Paul (Manager) was going to thump me if I didn’t do anything. He said I’ve got to do another album but I wanted to do another rock album. But he said just do an acoustic album and don’t think about. I didn’t really have any songs that were suitable so I wrote the songs quickly. I ended up spending longer in the studio. Actually that’s embellished a lot and it’s not just an acoustic album, there’s a lot of thought gone into it but once I knew I’d booked studio time and I only had two or three little ideas, I shit myself and thought, “Christ I better do good here!” The thing that makes you shit yourself the most is the idea of being in a studio working on a track that you don’t think that much of and it becomes really hard work, you just want to get out of the studio. I just made sure that I had enough songs that I knew I’d enjoy working on and that was the motivation. There wasn’t one song where I thought “Oh I don’t really like this”, I knew they were all really strong. I’d initially recorded them on my Dictaphone and listened to them in its roughest form and I thought well even if they only come out like that then they sound good.

There was a couple of little things that happened that I hadn’t done before that surprised me. You think “Oh I’ve never done a song like this” and that freaks you out completely because to me they all sound the same when I’m writing them, but when I hear them back you think “that’s different”, which happened a couple of times, so that was nice.

NIGE: Is there an end goal that you have in mind in terms of what you want to achieve with the album?

IAN: I just wanted to do a really, simple good ten track acoustic album, but ended up with a really good slightly more than acoustic twelve track album. As long as the songs are good and people tell me that the songs are good. I don’t really care if people tell me what my guitar playing or singing is like, its if it’s a good song that counts. You know most of my favourite artists aren’t particular great singers or musicians, but they’re great song writers, lyricists and melodeons, that’s the ultimate goal. There’s always going to be a better guitar player and singer than you, someone who can rock harder, someone who can sing higher, someone better looking and younger, there’s always going to be that but what you have to do is carve your identity into the songs that you’re writing, because there the things that last and if there good enough maybe one day somebody will do a version of it.

NIGE: The album is largely acoustic but have you ever thought of doing a heavier album like the ‘Head Like A Rock’?

IAN: Yeah I think the next one probably. I think it’s time. I’ve resisted the temptation to rock out. I think ‘Head Like a Rock’ is the definitive Ian McNabb rocks out album along with one that came out about ten years ago which was just called ‘Ian McNabb’ which was my big, power pop glitter rock album which rocked. I did an album a few years ago that was half acoustic, half electric and half of that rocked. It’s got to be really great to stand up to that. You can make a really good acoustic album easily but to make a really good rock album the songs have got to match the power. There’s an awful lot of bands that have a lot of power but the songs are laughable. I think the next project is to do a ten track rock album. A few people have said that the songs are too short on this album so on the next one I want them to say they’re too long.

NIGE: How’s the tour been going?

IAN: It’s not really a tour, just a series of gigs. I think proper working musicians should just gig, not tour. A tour is always put around a new album or DVD. Whereas I just keep gigging. I’d be happy to do  a couple of gigs every week but that’s not possible really. You can do that if you just want to play pubs, but to play in Manchester you can only really do it a couple of times a year. But it’s not a tour, just doing as many gigs as I can and as long as I make a bit of money, people turn up and sell some CDs then happy days.

NIGE: I’ve heard that you’re playing in a church in Brentford at your request. How did that come about?

IAN: Well being a screaming atheist that’ll be interesting. We did it last year playing in the bar area and it was a great gig so we’re doing it again, but we’re being moved into church. I’m playing on the alter so that’ll be fun.

NIGE: Any festivals lined up that you can tell us about?

IAN: We’re doing the ‘Acoustic Festival of Britain’ on 25th May in Uttoxeter. Apart from that nothing really. I’d love to do festivals but in order to it you need a band because it’s difficult to go onstage with an acoustic guitar with the background noise. I did it once at Guilfest where I was on at the same time as ‘Simple Minds’ and all you could hear was them dead loud, so you do need a band. In order to get a band I’ve got to get a decent amount of money because it’s expensive transporting, feeding and paying for everybody so we’ll see. We’re open to offers on that.

NIGE: What do you make of all the old school North West bands reforming? Has it made you think about reforming ‘The Icicle Works’?

IAN: I’ve done that twice anyway but it hasn’t been the original line up. I think if we can get the original line up then I’m not against doing it. The reason why these fellas are doing it is because of the money. I’m sure that they love playing but it’s such a colossal amount of money that ‘The Stone Roses’ are getting without playing a note. And of course everyone’s got the fever for it now, even bands that you don’t want to reform. I noticed that ‘Then Jericho’ are doing a tour and everyone’s playing their classic album. I’m like, “What fuckin’ classic album did you put out?” But if people want to go and see it then why not? I’m sure a lot of people would go and see ‘Then Jericho’ that wouldn’t go and see the lead singer with his bands. No one’s selling records anymore so playing live is the only way to make money so I can understand why they’re doing it. Did you hear that story about Mani from ‘The Roses’? The day after all the dates sold out he went to the cash point to check his balance and someone had put £2 million quid in and he hadn’t  even done anything, all he’s got to do is turn up and play the bass for a couple of hours. It’s a no brainer. I think the bands that said they wouldn’t do it will end up doing. ‘The Smiths’ will end up doing it. You can really get over your differences when someone is waving millions of pounds under your nose. I can get over my differences if someone’s waving a tenner.

NIGE: Out of the bands reforming, who would you most like to see and why?

IAN: I’m not really bothered. Most of the bands I like stay together. They don’t split up and make a big announcement about it, they just don’t do anything for years then do a tour. I’ll have a think on that one. ‘Dodgy’!

NIGE: You’re quite a serial social networker at the moment. How important do you think social networking has become to the industry?

IAN: I think it’s crucial. Since Facebook came online people spend most of their time on it. They find all their information through it. People don’t trawl web sites like they used to. They don’t go on your website and look for information because they’re too preoccupied with Facebook. Even when they’ve got the tele on they’ve got Facebook open. People used to go on message boards and have a bit of banter with each other but they don’t do that now. I put stuff on it, not just plugging gigs, sometimes having a pop at people as it can get a bit boring if all I’m doing is saying about doing a gig and got a new CD out. If that’s all you’re saying then it will get to a point where people won’t look at what you’ve written so I sometimes rant about things nothing to do with music to keep people interested. You’ve just got to keep yourself in people’s conscious. But I’m not really into all that, I don’t like speaking to the world every fuckin’ half hour but it’s how I communicate with the public now. If you look at what  everyone else is doing, constantly tweeting and you don’t do it then people will forget about you. They’re not going to go, “Oh! I wonder what Ian McNabb’s up to?” because they’ve got all this information coming at them and they haven’t got time to sit there and wonder about  stuff because they’re being bombarded with information, so you’ve got to get involved.

NIGE: Have you noticed more interest in your work since you started writing on social networking sites?

IAN: Well this album is the first thing we’ve done since we started getting pro-active with Twitter and Facebook. I used to never tweet and rarely put something on Facebook but before the album came out we were really hammering the release. It’s obviously had some effect as the album did about 650 pre orders and sold a thousand in all. It doesn’t sound a lot but for someone in my position it is considering we’ve only had it out for a month or so. Gig attendances have been up so far. I don’t know if it is social networking or because the wind’s blowing in a different direction but you’ve got  to say it has a little to do with it so we’ve got to keep it up.

NIGE: You’re becoming quite the voice on political matters on Facebook? Any chance of venturing into politics?

IAN: No! I’ve never really been political, I’m still not. I think things have just got so fuckin’ crazy that you’ve got to say something about it and I do say something about it. There’s a couple of tracks on the album that do too. It’s a simple thing really, we’re getting screwed by rich people and we always have been but it’s got so out of hand now that you do start to notice it. When I was a bit younger I wasn’t that bothered and was too busy having a good time, but when you get older you don’t go out as much and you see more stuff on the internet and not just watching the news which is sanctioned to you. I have been woken up a bit if you like.

NIGE: No plans to be the next Geldof or Bono then?

IAN: No, No No!

NIGE: You were played on Football Focus this morning? How did that feel?

IAN: Good. I didn’t hear it but I got loads of messages about it. It was an old ‘Icicle Works’‘Kasabian’ tracks. A mate of mine is the final editor for Football Focus so I’m not surprised when that happens but everyone else is. It’s a buzz though and I’d rather it was me than

NIGE: I’ve recently read a book that states you were a roadie for The Hollies back in the day? How did that come about?

IAN: I was never a roadie. HAHAHA!! How could I be a roadie for ‘The Hollies’? I don’t mind that rumour at all, particularly with ‘The Hollies’. I’m going to tweet that!!

NIGE: I’ll scrap that then if it’s not true.

IAN: Just say yeah I was but I don’t like to talk about it.

NIGE: Finally, is the second collaboration with Crazy Horse still on?

IAN: That’s always on the back burner. I’d like to think that was going to happen again at some point. The plan was that I was going to do something with them this year which they’re very much into but ‘his master’ has pulled them back in for an album so I presume they’ll be busy for the next two years. Who knows, they’re up for it and I think it’ll happen at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, otherwise I’m going to be in the studio with octogenarians.

Check out the live review here - album review here

Interview by Nigel Cartner/photo by Matt Johnston

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