Changing circumstances can often make or break an artist. They can also reinvigorate the muse and set a musician off along the right path. ‘Iron In The Fire’, the debut solo album from ex-The Coral guitarist Lee Southall, has certainly done that – it’s also announced its creator as a distinctive stylist and a songwriter to contend with, too. By Alan O’Hare.
“I do most of my playing and writing in the conservatory – experts tell you it’s not good to have all that glass, but I like the sound I get in there. I quite like the background noises from the rain, birds and cats, too.” Lee Southall, ex-Coral guitarist and creator of one of the best debut albums of the last couple of years, is talking about his home in the market town of Hebden Bridge. “It took a lot of adjusting when I moved here from Wirral, but it’s home now and the place you write is bound to influence your work.”
Southall took a five year break from releasing music following the birth of his daughter and his move from The Coral, but he never stopped creating. “I play the guitar every day,” says the distinctive six string stylist. “When my main Martin goes away to be serviced I actually miss it!” You can tell. The guitars are beautiful on ‘Iron In The Fire’, but so are the songs. The music maybe fluid, but Southall pays strict attention to tunes and lyrics, too. ‘Shade Of Blue’, with the colours of early Fleetwood Mac, sounds great – as do the likes of the delicate and dexterous ‘Yesterday Morning’, while the title track is a masterclass of solo recording and producing.
“I’d written loads of songs for this album, but wanted it to feel like it was all-of-piece, with songs that hung together and sparked off one another,” says Southall. He’s managed it. The record captures many moods of many mornings, but mostly the listener is left with a sense of standing still as the world turns its head. Live, too, the songwriter is a joy to watch and he’s back in town this week to play La Violette Società.
The reaction to ‘Iron In The Fire’ has been great, has that been good for your confidence?
Yeah, it’s been great. Moving from a band to being a solo performer is a big shift. There’s things I’d do differently in hindsight, but every musician says that once an album is done.
You live in Hebden Bridge now. Could you have written these songs anywhere else?
I’m in the wettest place in England… it always seems to be raining! The songs have loads of references to the weather and I didn’t really appreciate how much weather was a part of the album, but it’s the first thing lots of people notice!
At least they’re listening! How does it feel playing on your own after The Coral?
It feels really natural. Obviously it’s more intense as it’s just me for the whole set – I can play guitar all night, but I had to get used to singing for an hour. The Coral tours were great, it was part of my growing-up, but I couldn’t imagine doing that now… it was pretty mad.
Do you look back with affection on it all?
Yes, who wouldn’t? We were all so young. It was a great musical and performing education and the experience was a dream come true. There was excess in all its forms, and we were naive in many ways on the business side, but it felt like such a massive privilege for a lad from a working class family.
That’s the past. What about the future…
I’m always looking forward and busy arranging songs for the second album.
Great news. What can we expect?
Like I said, my home studio is in the conservatory, but I’ve also got a space now in an old Victorian chapel up on the moors – it’s got incredible acoustics and I think it will influence the new songs on the next album.
What have you been listening to that might influence your own music?
I still listen to my gold standards – Bert Jansch, Peter Green etc. – but over the last year or so I’ve been listening to Father John Misty and Mac Demarco.
What can we expect from you at La Violette Società?
I’m really looking forward to playing it. You can expect a lot of picking, plenty of songs from ‘Iron In The Fire’ and possibly a few you’ve not heard before.
La Violette Società
with Kevin Sampson, Lee Southall, Slerp, Simon Wozniak
Studio 2, Parr Street, Liverpool
Tuesday, September 26th, 7.30pm
‘Iron In The Fire’ is out now on Wonderful Sound
Pic courtesy Wonderful Sound