Reed, Alan (Pallas) (March 2004)

Interview with Pallas' Alan Reed

Pallas' Alan Reed (© InsideOut)Pallas will make their first foray to the US this July when then play at NEARfest 2004, supporting their new live CD and DVD, The Blinding Darkness. This UK band's first album, The Sentinel has become a classic of the neo-prog genre, released in 1984 and produced by Eddie Offord. It's been 20 years, and, including the new live release, the band have six albums to their credit (seven counting 1981's Arrive Alive). On behalf of Big Badd Wolf, Joshua Turner shares with us his recent interview with Pallas vocalist Alan Reed.

Big Badd Wolf: Hello

Alan Reed: Hi, Can I speak to Joshua Turner please?

BBW: Yes, this is Josh.

AR: Hi Josh, it's Alan Reed of Pallas. I was told to give you a call about now.

BBW: Oh great! I really wanted to talk to you. Did you call earlier this morning?

AR: No, not me. I've been doing endless phone calls in the United States, but not to you.

BBW: I wanted to start by asking you about some of the music festivals that you've been participating in. I was on your web site last night. I read that you were at Progeny earlier this year.

AR: October it was I think, yeah. [Actually, November -ed. PW

BBW: How did that festival go?

AR: It went really well actually. It was a good crowd. We play London a lot, so it wasn't a completely abnormal experience. Festivals are always different, because you are working under the constraints of other people. It is not your show. You need to work around other people. So there is always a few things that can throw you a bit. The audience that night was terrific. It was really good. We went out there and it was just a phenomenal welcome when we walked on.

BBW: Wow.

AR: It just went up from there. You know, it was a great night. We only played for forty minutes, forty five minutes. You know, we didn't even get to break a sweat. We were only starting to warm up at that time. At that point, they interrupted us to be honest. We didn't even get to the clima, but it was great fun, phenomenal fun.

BBW: I see that you are going to be headlining on the weekend of May 1st of this year.

AR: Oh Rotherham. We've played Rotherham quite a lot. Yeah, it's not entirely an abnormal experience for us. It's quite a good show. They have a good range of bands. Rotherham is an old friend to us. We play an average of once a year.

BBW: You are also heading over in July to the US for NEARfest?

AR: Yes, that is going to be more of an experience, because obviously we have not played in the States before. That will be all new to us. We don't know what the American audience is like or how they'll respond to what we do.

BBW: Sure.

AR: We should be intrigued. We're intrigued. We're looking forward to it. We you go to a new place, you're never sure what the vibe is like. When we play in Europe, every country is different, they all do things slightly differently. The Scots go mental, they go crazy. The English are a little bit more resolved, but they'll go with you. The Dutch are listeners, but when they go with it, they go good. The Germans the same. The French go absolutely bananas. They just go bezerk. The Italians sit down and listen. You know, ha ha ha, and then they go crazy between the songs. Everybody does things differently. The first time we played in Italy, it was like Whoa! What's wrong with these people? By the end of the night they had gone crazy. That's just the way they are. That's just how they do things. It's different. So, you have no idea what it is going to be like, what the vibe is going to like. I'm looking forward to it. Certainly nervous, because it is a new experience. As long as we come, NEARfest will be a good experience.

Pallas - The Cross And The CrucibleBBW: I was just listening to the Cross And The Crucible. I had it cranked up pretty good and that's why I was worried I might have missed your call.

AR: Ha ha ha.

BBW: I'm looking at the lyrics. I'm quite impressed with the lyrical content. Could you explain the story behind that album?

AR: It's not a story. It's not a concept album although a lot of people have taken it as that. I basically, how it came about, the lyrics, I don't just write the lyrics, I write them with Graeme [Murray, bass]. Pallas' Graeme Murray (© InsideOut)Graeme and I write them fifty fifty. One of us tends to have an idea and the other one changes it. Quite often he'll write the verse and I'll write the chorus or he'll write the verse and I'll write the chorus then the idea develops. We basically found when we were writing the Cross And The Crucible that we saw a common theme was emerging, you know. Basically along the lines of religious intolerance, um, how people, who, you know, basically, an opposition through history between faith on one hand and reason on the other. People who have faith in something are happy to believe that black is white and are more than happy to cut somebody's head off to prove it. On the other hand, people take a lot of time to prove for people to accept that Earth is round or things fell together at the same speed. You know, to accept the provable facts are not acceptable, because people with faith would block that. It kind of sounds like the heart versus the head in a certain sense throughout history. It's also the fact that human beings have the propensity to do incredibly cruel and stupid things to each other in the name of whatever god they believe in.

BBW: Exactly

AR:I think the common thread here is that Pallas is not generally or particularly religiously inclined. I think it's fair to say. It basically sounds like a big thing in music. It kind of needs an epic theme to it. You know you can't really write a song like easy love song to go with the music we are doing. It doesn't quite fit. We have tried, it doesn't work. We found the theme and the music were going a certain way. We found the songs and the themes seemed to repeat themselves in the lyrics we were coming up with. It reflected. It is quite a difficult thing to try and get words that match the music, see what I mean, where all of it makes sense.

We try to make, we put a lot of care and love into our music. We try to do the same for our words. It's part of the same thing all wrapped up together, you know.

BBW: How did you come up with the name Pallas? It sounds like Palace, but it is spelled P-A-L-L-A-S.

AR: It's simple. The simple answer is that it was drawn out of a hat. Originally, and this is long before I've been involved, the band was called Rainbow and then some guy with a pointy hat in Deep Purple decided to change his name to Rainbow. So the guys in Pallas put some names into a hat and Pallas is the one they took out. That's the story they told me, but basically Pallas is shortened out for Pallasatheni. She is the Greek name for war, wisdom, and needlework.

BBW: Interesting.

AR: I think it is kind of appropriate for us. It has Greek origins, you know, classical Greek. I suppose it is kind of appropriate for a band like us. It's classical on purpose.

BBW: How did you actually meet your bandmates and get this group formed?

AR: I'm a relative newcomer. I have only been in the band twenty years.

BBW: [I laugh hearing the words twenty years and newcomer used together; the humor on this point surprisingly escapes Alan]

AR: I was actually employed, um, when they parted company with the first singer of the first live album, the first studio album. I was brought in at that point. I auditioned and was brought in. The others all knew each other from working in Aberdeen and Northeastern Scotland, where they all came from. I [was] coming from Glasgow. The original incarnation of the band started as a school band, you know, Graeme and the drummer knew each other, and the keyboard player, knew each other from school. Gradually they met other musicians in the scene. The line-up finally stabilized with a bunch of guys from Aberdeen who sort of knew each other from other bands and such, you know, the usual sort of way a band comes together. So, basically all the players around Aberdeen at that time actually ended up in Pallas. All the best guys around I suppose. I suppose it must have been. It's interesting, because it is still based in Aberdeen. I go up there, they know everybody and everybody who has played in bands knows Pallas and they all know them. It's quite incestuous really.

BBW: How did you get involved in music yourself?

AR: Most people listen to records and I like records. I found that I wanted to do as well as listen. I think a friend of mine got a guitar for his Christmas or something. I was fifteen at the time. He didn't get very far with it. Very early on I was getting the knack of it. I bothered my parents to get a guitar. I moved quickly onto bass, because I figured it would be less competitive. More chance of getting into a band as a bass player, everybody wanted to be a lead guitarist. I ended up singing, because nobody else in the band wanted to sing. You know, I was a bass player that could sing. I was a big Rush fan, so that helps. In the end, you were singing and playing bass. Seemed perfectly normal and the fact it worked. I intended to be a bass player. I never intended to be a lead vocalist, you know, I figured I would be singing backing vocals if I was in a band. It so happens circumstance led me to apply for Pallas, because I'd seen Pallas a few times and thought they were a brilliant band. When the job came up, it just seemed like the right thing to go for. I just felt that I would fit with what they were doing. You know, we were coming from the same sort of place as people and at that time I felt that I was right. We hit it off really well. We've been together ever since.

BBW: About your voice, to me it sounds like you've got a bit of an influence from Fish from Marillion. Is that one of your influences?

I'm so contemporary with Fish. I think Fish and I both have a Peter Gabriel influence. Fish is five years older than me I guess, but Fish and I were singing around the same time I would guess. I'm a big fan of early Genesis and Yes. I was a big fan of Yes, UFO, and The Scorpions, Deep Purple, and Zeppelin, but I couldn't sing that sort of stuff. I tried it, I couldn't sing it. I didn't have that kind of voice, but I found I did have the range to sing the Genesis songs. That was the kind of stuff I gravitated towards, because it was the stuff I could do. Yeah, it's an influence. Yeah, definitely. I wouldn't deny it. I certainly have the same kind of register, the same kind of tonality. I tried to make it my own. I would like to think it is a bit more distinctively my own after all these years. I wouldn't deny it. That's a prime influence.

BBW: You list Peter Gabriel and Rush as your influences. What are some of your other influences?

AR: Good god, mostly good music. I listen to a lot of Yes. I listen to a lot of Zeppelin. I listen to Radiohead. I listen to a current band Muse. Let me think what I've got on the turntable downstairs this minute. Oh god, what's the name of that bloody, oh, a band called Blank. Everybody tells me I should listen to Tool, but I never quite gotten around to it yet. I listen to Purple a lot. I found Made In Japan in a bargain rack in my local record store. I've always wanted that album, so I bought it. I listen to that a lot. My little kids quite enjoy it, which is quite gratifying for me. I've got a lot of singer-songwritery stuff. When I was learning a twelve string guitar, I dabbled in a lot of that kind of stuff. I listened to a lot of Neil Young and Bob Dylan and a guy called Gary Harper who is an English singer-songwriter I like. A lot of that sort of stuff as well. There is a lighter thread to it. Basically, I'll listen to anything that I think I like. I don't have hard and fast rules about what is my kind of music. You know, there is a lot of good music around in all kinds. I was actually watching the folk awards, the BBC folk awards the other night and Steve Earle was on. I've never really come across Steve Earle. I've never really come across Steve Earle apart from Copperhead Road. I was quite blown away with it. His playing was amazing, really clever lyrics, and simple songs. I'm really into that kind of stuff as well.

BBW: You talk about playing guitar as well. I'm looking at the liner notes and it is listed that you play the B.L. Zeebub?

AR: Ha ha ha. That's a joke. It's a bit of a joke. It's a bit of a voiceover. What is it called? It's a parabobble. It sounds like I'm shouting through a foghorn. It's off a car salesman. I don't know if you know the bit. Ayeyieyie dogs laugh, that kind of stuff. It's like my name is B.L., you know, I'll give you the best you can buy off my B.L. Zeebub. They put that in there. I didn't put that in there. They added that themselves I'm afraid. The previous album though, it's got... all on my page it lists all the guitars and keyboards and then it says none of this played on the album.

BBW: That's pretty funny.

AR: We don't take ourselves entirely seriously. I'm the standing joke in the band. I have more guitars than Niall the guitarist does.

BBW: Ha ha ha. That's a lot. Talking about albums, what are the plans for the next album?

AR: We are working on one at the moment. The working title is The Dreams Of Men. It kicks off where The Cross... left off. Slightly harder edge. It's not in complete shape yet. We have the songs. We are finalizing the arrangements and the words and stuff at the minute. It's got a slighter harder edge. There is one track in particular that we are working on called "The River of Dreams." It is really quite, it is not quite metal, but it's really pounding. It's a really weird guitar part. It's using, he has a virtual guitar, so he can do all kind of weird pitch bends that you can't normally do on a guitar. It's really quite dark. It's Pallas. It's recognizably Pallas. It's not, we haven't gone country western. You know, we may go a bit folk at times, but we are not going to take a left turn, a vicious left turn on this one. It'll recognizable from the previous one. We found a formula we think we are comfortable with. We are trying to develop it further, but we are not into experimenting at the moment.

BBW: I felt with The Cross And The Crucible that it did have a bit more of an edge than progressive rock, but it couldn't quite be called progressive metal.

AR: No no no. I don't think we could get quite as far as progressive metal. That's not, we're a rock band. That's where we start from. We not a prog band or a metal band, we're just a rock band. We've got a reasonably wide range of influences. We write reasonably complex music, but we like a good tune. We like it to rock out a bit. We need a bit of progression, a bit of passion in it. That's what we try to achieve. We try to get the feeling in it. You know, feeling is really important. I think, I don't listen to a lot of progressive metal, but I quite often hear it criticized as being a little bit soulesss, not enough heart.

BBW: Absolutely. I think that's the thing about your albums. They do have heart. It is not just a progressive metal clone that is just noodling, that sort of thing.

AR: A lot of guys have been the GIT. You can tell when you hear them, they all sound the same.

BBW: At the same time, it isn't progressive rock that is sometimes too laid back, too subtle. It finds its way between those two genres. Like you are saying, it has a lot of heart. I think it is a winning combination. I'd be interested in hearing what this next album is going to be like with that additional edge. I think that could really work for you guys.

AR: We'll see what happens in the next. Pallas' Niall Mathewson (© InsideOut)Niall [Mathewson] does the engineering as well. He has a tendency always to mix himself a little too low. It's quite funny. Live he is quite a bit louder. You are always saying to Niall, we need a little bit more guitar. Yeah, but we'll see what happens.

BBW: Just to find out a little bit more about yourself and your personality, what's the last CD that you purchased?

AR: The last CD I purchased was that Deep Purple Made in Japan [album]. That was about a week ago. The one before that would have been Muse - Absolution I think. Um, I've just bought, I've been given a CD by a band called Jet. I haven't had a chance to listen to yet. I'm told that, you see there is a big sort of resurgence in rock-oriented bands. There is a lot of good guitar music being made and it's all mainstream. It's becoming, there is a band called The Darkness.

BBW: Yeah, I was just about to ask you about them.

AR: Yeah, I find that hilarious, because actually I don't think they are that brilliant of a band. They brought some fun back in the music. They are a rock band and they are making no apologies for it. This is great, this is great. This is what we've needed for some time. There's quite a lot of it. There is a band called Grain Swell happening over here at this minute. It is no longer work to talk about guitar music and rock anymore. People are starting to, I think I've even seen some articles about progressive rock. People talk about Genesis and Yes without even sneering. It's just not done by journalist. There is a fresh wind blowing through at the minute, blowing out some of the cobwebs, and making this kind of stuff acceptable again. I hope that is going to be useful for us. It is certainly in mainland Europe, Germany, and Holland. Bands like ourselves are starting to make more of an impression on the charts than we did before. I mean, I'm hoping that this is going to be a bit of a knock on for us. Who can tell, but this is refreshing to see these young bands come along and they are not afraid to say, actually quite like Led Zeppelin, you know.

BBW: What's the last concert you attended as a fan?

AR: The last concert I attended? Oh, actually it was a band called The World Carts. Wild Cards, sorry not The World Carts, The Wild Cards and it was in Aberdeen about two weeks ago. Um, I was up in Aberdeen. It was my birthday and I went up to Aberdeen partly to see the guys, but also to see some friends of mine as well. We all went, we all got very drunk and we went to see a band called The Wild Cards. I couldn't tell you very much about them. I was about five beers and a couple tequilas by then at that point.

BBW: Ha ha ha. That's funny. I also ask everybody, can you recall any Spinal Tap moments?

AR: Oh yes. I got the film. I've got the DVD. I'm so disappointed that our first American gig is not in Cleveland. I'm so worried my whole life that I won't get a chance to say "Hello Cleveland." We are definitely none more black and we definitely go to eleven. No doubt about it. We're all professionals.

BBW: Can you recall any Spinal Tap moments that you had yourself?

AR: We've done all of them! We've done all of them! We've done all of that film.

BBW: You've done all of that film?

AR: Every single thing has happened to us in one shape or form. We've have played an American air base and it was pretty much as it was described in the film. There is a place called REF up at Hayford, the Oxford show. It used to be, when we were there, it was about 1985 and there was F-111 and they were all getting ready to bomb Libya and it was Thanksgiving and we played, and we played the social club up at REF upper Hayford, an old US Airforce base. It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life I'd say. The organizers treated us like shit, um, I remember. The guys on the base were brilliant. They really looked after us, you know the service guys. They were brilliant, um, bought us beers, whatever, but the food that we were promised never materialized, you know. We were messed around. They sent the check, they sent the money directly to the promoter, so we never saw the cash we need. It was a dreadful evening. It was a miserable, miserable night in November and bloody cold and also in the middle of bloody nowhere as you may expect. We've done the airforce base. We've done the, there is always the girlfriend problem in every band. Every band always has to have the girlfriend problem. We don't have it anymore, but we did have it and it was the guitarist.

BBW: Ha ha ha.

AR: Oh gawd. The bickering. The constant bickering and recording studios. Everything in that film is so accurate it is painful. You know, it's wonderful. We actually went out on tour with Uriah Heep. We supported them nightly at five. Uh, Uriah Heep is Spinal Tap without a doubt. In fact, the keyboard player at the time, I've forgotten his name, was actually the guy who recorded the soundtrack, who played the keyboards on The Spinal Tap soundtrack. John, I've forgotten his name; he's gone now. There is a recent guy in the band, but the Heep were Spinal Tap. It was just completely, Mickey Box was just Nigel Dorf done completely, but they were lovely guys, they're brilliant guys to work with, really good they were. Usually you get a main band, support band thing, but they were really friendly, we hung out with them the whole time. That was great. I was only about twenty, twenty one at the time, so it was a way new novel experience for me. Yeah, the whole thing was painfully accurate.

BBW: I also want to ask you some of your favorites on various things. I want to ask you first what your favorite movie might be?

AR: Well, it changes from time to time. I keep coming back to Trainspotting. Have you seen that?

BBW: Yeah.

AR: That reminds me of a certain time and a certain place. That is the empire in the mid-eighties definitely. I knew people very much like that. It's surreal, but it is painfully accurate again in lots of ways. It has some great lines like I don't hate the English, they are just wankers. Scots are just farmers, because we have been colonized by wankers, you know. That says a lot about the Scottish psyche at the time. I love it. I keep coming back to it. I love The Blues Brothers. I absolutely love that, because I've never come across that kind of music really until I saw that movie. I was at the university I think. They had had it on video. A lot of us had a few beers and we watched it. I thought what the hell is this. At the end I had to buy the album. I was blown away by the music. It's not something I normally gone to, but I guess it turned me on how good R&B was. Yeah, I actually ended up forming an R&B band and we ended up with a three piece horn section and an eleven piece band. It was very different from Pallas, but I liked it a lot and it was fun.

BBW: What would be your favorite book?

AR: Favorite book? Easy. The Black Tunnel, the Tin Drum, the Pintograph. I don't know if you know the book. It's a very famous book in Germany. It's not so famous, it is quite well-known in the UK, I don't know where it is known in The States. Basically, it is the story of a 3-year old boy in Nazi Germany who decides he doesn't like the world around him, so he decides to stop growing at the age of 3. He goes all the way through Nazi period and comes out the other side as a 3 year old even though he's got older. It's kind of a surreal account of the Nazi years from the point of view of a young kid. It is a funny book. It's a very dark book as well. That's a book I like a lot and what else. Oh gawd. Lately, I haven't done so much reading lately. I've got young kids now, so I don't have the time to read. I used to read lots of books. I got, you know, bookshelves of books and books and books, but I haven't really been reading any books for a while now. I just finished reading a book called Jennifer Government, which is a satire of consumer society. It is set in a world where people get their names from the corporation they work for. There is a guy named Hack Nike who is employed by the marketing department to make sneakers more attractive. Then he is hunted down by some guys at Coca Cola. It's a very anti-corporate book. It's very entertaining. It's a dark comedy.

BBW: What would be your favorite band aside from Pallas?

AR: My favorite band would be Rush without a question, because they are a band, I got into them when I was fifteen and I'm still into them now. The thing is that they've always moved on. They've never let the grass grow on free. They've always been pretty consistent. I mean, there are dull patches, but on the whole what you get from them is the passion that I think we try to get as well. I get, it is quite interesting, I was just talking to Niall the other night. We both got the Rush in Rio DVD and the documentary. I've never really seen many interviews with the guys from Rush, because they keep them busy, they keep much to themselves. It was real interesting to hear them talk and the way they interact. I said, "Jesus Christ it's us," you know. The same sort of thing going on between them, you know, and I always thought they had a special chemistry. That's what I get from Rush. There is definitely something that only the three guys get together, you know, that they get more than the individuals when they get together. That's one of the things that attracts me about them. They're intelligent. They're intelligent musically and they're intelligent lyrically. You know, I'm not being talked down to. They're not talking about getting pissed and screwing women. They're talking about things that affect all of us, you know. I just respond to them. I always have.

BBW: What would be your favorite Rush album?

AR: Well, uh, it changes from time to time. I mean, Moving Pictures is the one I tend to come back to, because it has the right balance between songs being flashy and being melodic. Um, there are a lot of good songs and it is just before they got a bit too tied up with the machines. You know, they were still grooving. It is quite interesting when you see them play stuff, when you see them play the older stuff. They free up a bit, because they are not tied down to sequencers and stuff and you see quite a different vibe to them. They are a more technical band, a technical equipment-oriented band. I like that and I love Roll The Bones. I think Roll The Bones is a great album. I like Vapor Trails, because it is quite different. They come back and they come back sounding angry. I don't know what they are angry about, but they are angry.

BBW: I basically ask those questions so that fans reading interviews...

AR: Know where you're coming from.

BBW: Yeah. It helps them identify with the artist. I have a personal question that helps me identify with the artist. Do you have any pets?

AR: Pets? We've got a cat.

BBW: You have a cat? Okay.

AR: We have a cat called Hamisch.

BBW: Hamisch?

AR: He came with that name. We got him from a cat shelter as a kitten. He is a small black cat with uh, he is a cat about the house. At the studio where I live at the moment, he's up in the loft. We call it the cat flat, cause he comes up here whenever he can to get away from the kids. He is pretty much his own cat.

BBW: Is there anything else you would like to tell the fans at this time?

AR: We are looking forward to seeing as many of you as we can with the brief opportunity we have. If not then, hope to see you whenever we can. Looking very much forward to meeting some Americans over there.

BBW: That sounds great. That's actually all the questions that I have for you at this time. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time out to talk to me.

AR: Yeah, no problem. Hey, how are you actually using this Josh? Is this going on a web site or print or what's it do?

BBW: It is going to be going to an online journal and possibly other ones as well. The primary one would be Big Bad Wolf. I'll try to spread the word as much as I can. Possibly I can review the next album as well.

AR: Yeah, sure.

BBW: I'm looking forward to it. Based off your explanation, it sounds very interesting.

Pallas - The Knightmoves EP (1985)
Pallas - The Wedge (1986/2000)
Pallas - Knightmoves To Wedge (combo reissue)
Pallas - Beat The Drum (1999)
Pallas - Live Our Lives (2000)
Pallas - The Cross And The Crucible (2001)
Pallas - Mythopoeia (2002)
Pallas - Blinding Darkness (2003)
Pallas - The Dreams Of Men (2005)
Pallas - The River Sessions 1 (2005)
Pallas - The River Sessions 2 (2005)
Pallas - Live From London 1985 (2005)
Pallas - Official Bootleg 27/01/06 (2006)
Pallas - Moment to Moment (2008)
Alan Reed - Dancing With Ghosts (2011)
Alan Reed - First In A Field Of One (2012)
Alan Reed - Live In Liverpool (2013)

Pallas - Blinding Darkness (DVD) (2003)
Pallas - Live From London (DVD) (2008)
Pallas - Moment To Moment (DVD) (2008)

Added: March 22nd 2004
Interviewer: Joshua "Prawg Dawg" Turner

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