2021 has been good for the fans of AOR and melodic rock: ECLIPSE, HEARTLAND, STAN BUSH, GROUNDBREAKER, THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA, HARDLINE, MIDNITE CITY have released their new albums and this list could be as long as the Nile. But among these top notch records I’d love to pick up a new album by EDGE OF THE BLADE, the band which includes Alan Kelly and John Francis, ex-members of SHY and AFTER HOURS. After a well-received album “Feels Like Home” (2020), the band returns with “Distant Shores”. Alan Kelly took his time to explain how this album came to life.
Hello, Alan! Congrats on the new album! It took you just a year to deliver a new record! Did you already have some material written for “Distant Shores” when “Feels Like Home” came out?
Hi Konstantin! “Distant Shores” was written from scratch, we didn’t have any “spare” songs left from “Feels Like Home” we just knuckled down and used the lockdown period to our advantage, we both have home studios and that makes recording very quick and easy when it comes to exchanging ideas.
What’s your songwriting method? Do you work on songs even if you are not in the mood for that or do you write whenever you feel you have a melody to capture?
I find it difficult to write any new material if I’m not in the mood but thankfully that doesn’t happen too often. Once I get inspired to write I tend to come up with three or four songs at a time. I often get ideas in the middle of the night and have to either scribble words down on a piece of paper or hum quietly into my iPhone recorder just to get the idea down and come back to it later when I have more time.
You write a lot for EDGE OF THE BLADE and play almost everything. Do you feel pressure because of that or do you like to take responsibility?
I don’t feel under pressure to write, it’s not like the old days when record companies were onto you all the time for the next album. That said, I do tend to continuously write, as soon as one albums has finished I’m already writing for the next. I don’t deliberately set out to do that, I just enjoy the writing and recording side of things, I guess. It just comes naturally.
Are you fine with the fact that John doesn’t bring ideas or would you like to see more input from him?
I think it’s unfair to say that John doesn’t bring any ideas, I give him plenty of opportunity to write lyrics etc., it’s just that he doesn’t work particularly fast in that regard and I end up writing them myself as I can’t wait for him to keep up. He does chip in with the odd suggestions musically here and there, why don’t you try it this way or that way, it’s not like he doesn’t chip in at all, plus his voice will automatically bring its own unique melodies to a lot of the songs that perhaps I wouldn’t have tried, so I will always credit John for having a part in it.
You gained international success as a drummer. Were drums your first instrument and when/how did you learn how to play other instruments?
Yes, drums were my first instrument. I took up the drums when I was fifteen. I’d always had a keen interest in writing the songs and got involved in a lot of the lyrics and melodies whenever I could, I also sang a lot of the backing vocals in SHY and didn’t see myself as “just the drummer”. As I got more and more into the writing side of things, I gradually picked up bits and pieces of keyboards and home recording enough to be able to put some basic music ideas down myself, none of them ever got used for SHY although it didn’t stop me trying. Only once I’d moved from Birmingham to Cornwall in 2000 I took up guitar, it was a case of having too as I didn’t know any musicians in the area that I could rely on to come and record guitar parts for me. It was a slow painful process but I’m glad I stuck with it as now I’m able to grab a guitar and record my ideas as and whenever I get them and even put some lead guitar on if I want to, what a joy it is to be able to do it all yourself without having to rely on anyone else.
What do you think about programmed drums? Are they appropriate for you?
As a drummer obviously I want to put real drums on recordings whenever I can, however this is not always possible, we don’t always have the room to facilitate a full drum kit to be bashing away at all hours so it is inevitable that program drums is a sensible option on many occasions. I like to do any drum programming myself to make sure that the parts are realistic and are genuinely something that I would want to play on a real kit and they have “feel” and “sensitivity” as you would if you were actually playing them and are not just off the shelf preprogrammed patterns.
“Feels Like Home” was done basically by you and John Francis with help from Danny Beardsley. Why did you decide to add guitarist Miguel Angel Lopez to the ranks? How did you get in touch with him?
Well it’s not strictly true that Danny Beardsley helped us with lead guitar parts on “Feels Like Home”. I had previously paid Danny to record lead guitar parts for 7HY, he never actually recorded anything for “Feels Like Home”. I recorded all the lead guitar parts for “Feels Like Home” and used snippets of Danny’s fast runs on the odd tracks and interlocked them with my own solo parts to make a complete solo. I had to tune them up or down here and there to make them fit but with a little skill on my part I think I did a good job. I’m getting better at lead guitar all the time but Danny is just a “whizz” at sweeping runs etc., I couldn’t hope to try and emulate them. I told Danny that I was doing that with his solos and he was fine with it, he said as I’d already paid for his solos it was up to me what I did with them. On “Distant Shores” I was initially aiming to do more or less the same with the guitar solos but there is only so many times you can use the same runs before someone starts to notice!
So here enters Miguel! Could you introduce him and tell us a bit about his music background, please?
John Ward, another former singer for SHY, was doing his own recording project in Spain and I offered to put some backing vocals on his album for him. He sent me over his stuff and on listening to it I became very impressed with the guitar solos played by his guitarist Miguel Angel Lopez. He is also a guitar teacher in Spain. I remembered his name and then gave him a shout when we were doing “Distant Shores” and asked if he would like to record some solos for us, initially it was just going to be a couple of songs but it ended up being the whole twenty two songs that we had as demos.
The lead guitar work on “Distant Shores” is great. There are a lot of sharp yet melodic solos on the album. Did Miguel write them alone or did you supply him with some guidelines?
I’d like to think I influenced Miguel as all twenty-two demos that he got sent to record already had my solos in place, but, I can’t honestly lay claim to that as Miguel is such a unique player. I love his style and his melodies, he seems to get exactly what we are looking for, he reminds me very much of the late great Steve Harris, the former lead guitarist for SHY, and that is high praise indeed.
Do you have plans to find a bass player and start gigging with EDGE OF THE BLADE? And what would be your role on stage: a drummer, a rhythm guitarist?
Having learned the rhythm guitar there is no way I’d go back to playing the drums live, I like to get out there, see the audience and interact with them, not something you can really do behind a drum kit. There has been some talk of us possibly playing some festivals next year which would be absolutely brilliant if that was to come off. I’m sure we’d have no shortage of bass players who’d want to fit the bill.
The new album has more rocky songs like “Killing Me”, “Can’t Wait” or “How Long”. Is that why you called the album “Distant Shores” after feeling like home on the previous one?
John Francis came up with the title “Distant Shores”. It came about because he lives in Wales and I live in Cornwall and Miguel lives in Spain, we all kind of live on or near the beach so it seems to fit with what we were doing and the locations we were in.
“Angels Fear to Tread” sounds very aching, almost like a scream for help. What inspired you to write it?
“Angels Fear to Tread” was inspired by two things that are slightly connected at least the theme is. In my early twenties I had a friend who had a motorcycle accident and ended up in hospital. And I recently watched a BBC TV series called “Life on Mars” which basically became the subject matter for this song. Imagine lying in your hospital bed, not being able to move or communicate with anyone but still being able to hear every word that everyone is saying, and there is talk of them switching off the life support machine, you desperately want to shout out and let everyone know that you are in there but remain unable to do so, what an awful situation to find yourself in hence “Where Angels Fear To Tread”
“Life Is for Living” is such a positive song with a very simple motto. What do you think, why do people tend to forget about these words and waste their time on silly things?
The song was written by Judith Randall and I believe it started out as a poem, Judith had cancer and these were her last words to her daughter (at least this is my understanding of it). Robin Randal and Bill LaFeur decided to put the poem to music and recorded a rough demo together. John Francis is still good friends with Robin Randall and she asked him if EDGE OF THE BLADE would like to record this song, so I took the demo version and gave it the EOTB touch. Robin Randall and Bill LaFleur were very pleased with how it came out that they gave us permission to use the song on our album.
On the other hand, there are gentle and beautiful songs: “Love Me Again”, “Lonely To” and my personal favourite “Every Beat Of My Heart”. They are so emotional and personal, so was it easy for you at first to show your feelings and share them with the whole world at first? I guess when you do this you become defenseless in a way…
I don’t set out to write a ballad or a fast song, whatever comes out comes out. I don’t feel like I’m writing about my own personal relationship in my lyrics either, again I just write whatever comes out. I can see why people might get that impression but here again I want the songs to be personal to anyone who is going through those feelings, they can relate to the lyrics etc. I find it’s easy to write about life’s lessons and these are subjects that I return to time and time again, it never hurt The Beatles!
I realize that you are proud of the entire album but are there particular songs/lyrics which still give you a feeling of total satisfaction when you roll your eyes and think “Oh, yes, this is it!?”
There are a few songs on this album that have done that to me, the feeling of “It just ain’t going to get any better than this… it deserves to be a hit”. I think “Love Me Again” is right up there with one of the best songs I have ever written. I think it just hits all the right notes and John’s vocal performance just couldn’t be any better. It is the ultimate AOR ballad. And you’ve already mentioned “Angels Fear To Tread”, I like this because it’s an up-tempo single that isn’t about the usual subject matter and yet still has you tapping your feet and singing along. In my own humble opinion It’s a winner but hey… what do I know?
Is there something you haven’t tried with EDGE OF THE BLADE but definitely would love to? A cover song? A collaboration with some musician? A song with an orchestra?
Yes, all of the above, but just on a basic level I would like to play live with EOTB. I want to see if we can deliver the songs like they are on the album. The older you get the more commitments you have which limit the chances to be able to just go out and play, but ultimately I would love to take it out on tour and see how it all goes down with a live audience. I would love to write a song with Michael Schenker, he is my all-time favorite guitarist and I could die happy if I’d had any kind of collaboration with him. I met him once, he came to see SHY supporting Gary Moore at some gig in Germany. He came backstage and asked me about the MSG patches that I had on my leather jacket, he’d seen them on a poster of SHY in “Metal Hammer” that for some reason “Metal Hammer” had printed backwards! He said something like “Why are the MSG patches backwards on your jacket?” He was my hero at the time, and still is, I was a gibbering wreck! Here was the man himself right next to me asking about my jacket! What did I say? ”t£@$%” is what I said, total gibberish! I was dumb struck and couldn’t speak!! He must have thought I was a right twat! My big moment and I couldn’t speak!
The new album seems to have a bit rougher, or let’s say less polished, sound compared to the previous one. Is it just my reception or was it done on purpose?
Well I’m hoping it’s just you as we didn’t set out to have it sound “rougher” than “Feels Like Home”. We used the same mix/master engineer, Iraklis Deligiorgis as on “FLH”. The only real difference recording-wise is that all the guitars rhythm and lead were re-amped on “Distant Shores” whereas the lead guitar on “FLH” was the sound that I had recorded it with. Miguel wanted his lead sound to have more “umph” so that meant re-amping all the lead guitar sounds including my own parts. I have to agree with Miguel on that one though, I much prefer the re-amped sound on “Distant Shores”.
Why did you sign a one-off deal with AOR Heaven for “Distant Shores”?
Well, it’s a pity that it’s only going to be a one-off deal as I believe EOTB and this record company are a match made in AOR Heaven! Lions Pride Music who we are still signed with were not able to release “Distant Shores” as soon as we would have liked because their roster for the year was already full, and they very kindly agreed that we could seek out another company to release it if we wished, otherwise it wouldn’t see the light of day until late 2022. It is unfortunate that AOR Heaven will be turning into a mail order-only company after our album has been released as we would really liked to have continued working with Georg on future products.
What is the story with the missing tracks from “Feels Like Home”? Why didn’t you release them digitally at first?
Well we had already finished the album when John Francis played me some demo songs that his band AFTER HOURS had recorded some years before but they had never been released, these became known as the Randall tracks (three in all). I really liked them so much so I decided to re-record them and use them as EOTB tracks. It turned out that these tracks had been previously released before by Marc Free and that meant that Lions Pride Music had to purchase a license to put them on our CD album, a separate license was going to be required to put them out digitally. So the decision was made to keep the Randal tracks on the CD and take them off the digital release, as it was going to cost too much, and use the original tracks we had in their place. As it turned out, Robin Randall did give us her written permission to use them for digital release and so they eventually got released as three separate digital tracks from “FLH”.
The band started out with “The Ghosts Of Humans” (2015) which had a dark vibe, something that people didn’t expect from the artists who were involved with SHY and AFTER HOURS. How come?
This was very much an experimental album for EOTB and again I’m quite proud of, at least we gave it a try. OK, the AOR audiences were not quite ready for it but I still love it. We were trying to be something like Avenged Sevenfold or Alter Bridge, hats off to us for at least giving it a go, it hasn’t always got to be tried and tested, has it?
In one interview after “The Ghosts…” you said you and Andrew Chick had around 20 songs for the next album but it took five years to deliver another record. What happened? Did you use those songs you mentioned in the interview or did you write brand new songs for “Feels Like Home”?
A lot of those songs got used on “FLH” but as Andrew wasn’t involved with the album I was able to keep them more melodic and bring them into the overall feel of an AOR album, something that myself and John would be more comfortable with. We did add a couple of new songs in the end plus the Randall tracks.
Your relationships with John Francis go back to the time when SHY and AFTER HOURS toured together and then you tried out John as a singer for SHY. Why didn’t that plan work out and what happened to the demos SHY recorded with John? Did you think about releasing them or re-recording them with EDGE OF THE BLADE?
Well, unfortunately John caused some upset within SHY, not with me it has to be said, and he was asked to leave. This was a pity as I believe we had something special going on as a group, Steve had written some excellent songs for John and we roughly demoed them on our own eight-track Portastudio. These demos got shelved and basically were never heard of again that is until I rediscovered them while we were writing songs for “Distant Shores”. I played the songs to John and he agreed that they were too good not to be heard so I set about re-recording them. I think there were about seven or eight all together. We have managed to record all the ones that we could find and to me they sound great and Miguel has done Steve proud with the guitar solos. We recorded 22 songs altogether for “Distant Shores” including Steve’s songs, we struggled to pick what we thought were the strongest eleven tracks and hopefully the remaining eleven songs will go on some future album. The two Steve Harris tracks that made it onto “Distant Shores” are “How Long” and “Every Beat of My Heart”. I hope that we did him proud with our versions of his songs. We tried to keep them as true to the demos as possible.
2021 has been a busy year for you as you released an album with 7HY as well. Could you tell us a bit about it, please? As far as I understand, it’s a collection of the songs from previous records, so what’s the purpose of releasing it?
It seems to be a theme with me to write twice as many songs for an album than actually required. The acoustic 7HY “Rogues Gallery” album was meant to be a double album with “No Going Back” (2019) but when it came down to it, it was going to be too expensive to release it like that so Lions Pride Music decided we should treat them as two separate albums. And I’ll be honest with you it had been so long since we recorded “Rogues Gallery” that I’d almost forgotten about it, out of the blue last year Chris Siloma told me that Lions Pride Music were going to release it as a CD. I’m more than happy that it has eventually seen the light of day.
When can we expect a proper new album from 7HY?
Never say never, I guess. I liked working with both Shawn Pelata and Andrew Chick, as we had done five 7HY albums together and I have enjoyed all of them so if the opportunity came up again and everyone was willing I’m sure I could be persuaded. However, I’m currently working on yet another album with EOTB, as I mentioned we already had eleven songs ready to go after “Distant Shores” plus we are currently seven songs into the album after that so I guess I’d like to see where EDGE OF0 THE BLADE and AOR Heaven take us first.