Neale James (The Happy Fallen) Interview
Neale James has been a part of the Manchester music scene for far more years than he would probably care to admit to. His “band”, The Happy Fallen, have just released their debut album, Lost And Found.
Manchester Rocks made an arrangement to meet up with Neale in town to do an interview and take some portraits but it never happened… it was lost to a sea of alcohol albeit a very enjoyable afternoon talking about music. So we rearranged for the following week and we managed to keep to one pint.
You've just self released a new CD, can you tell us a little about it, how did it all come about and what was the genesis for the whole project?
The Happy Fallen started four years ago roughly. I'd been playing in a few bands but then decided to go and do it alone, playing all the instruments myself.
You've got quite a bit of history of playing in bands in the Manchester area…
I started on drums when I was about 14 then with the Terrorist Guitars, a punk band from Salford - not heavy punk but punk pop, the Ramones, Buzzcocks type stuff. Then there was The Parade, a psychedelic type band from the 80’s, and that is when I met Craig Gannon (from The Smiths) and Ivor Perry. Gannon had just finished and left The Smiths and joined The Cradle which was Ivor Perry’s band and he was originally in Easterhouse. I auditioned as a singer initially so the line up was Craig Gannon, Ivor Perry both on guitars, Gary Rostock on drums, I can't remember the bassists name, so just being in a room with Gannon and Perry, two great guitar giants because Perry was going to replace Johnny Marr. There were a few auditions/rehearsals but they didn't work out so I ended up playing bass in The Cradle.
I moved to Holland two years later, lived there for nine years but didn't do any music, came back and wanted to get back into music so The Happy Fallen was born and the idea was to work with other musicians as well. I worked with Mike Murray from Easterhouse, Stella Grundy from Intastella, but, I decided to strip it back down to the one. So the album is basically me just playing everything although there is one track I did with Monica Ward, which isn't on the album, but is available as a separate download. So I needed to get three years music down into one place, that so I can carry on a fresh because I do not know where the sound is going to go now, it could be different, but I needed to get everything down in one place so that's what the album is about, some new tunes and some old tunes.
The Happy Fallen have a song which is gone somewhat viral on the Internet with a video which has a clip of The Addams Family dancing, and it has a huge number of hits on youTube, can you tell me what the thinking was behind that and how you manage to find that particular video to go with the song?
It was through a friend. I'd finished the song, I Got Free, and it's hard enough work getting the song together and getting the production and mixing right, never mind the video. You don't have to make a video, obviously, but I like to. The searching for visuals to fit the music is sometimes a bit of a tricky job. But fortuitously two days after I had finished the tune a friend of mine Ed Dobson posted on Facebook some heavy heavy tune with The Addams Family dancing. Lots of bands have used it and I thought that is going to fit perfect…
And it does, it works brilliantly…
And the I Got Free concept, you have to find your own ways as nobody is going to set you free, you have to find your own ways to attain that. With Lurch doing his mad dance it seemed to fit perfectly. And it all went mental, I posted it on Facebook and it got shared all over the place, and got re-shared and re-shared and re-shared. I'm not going to take all the credit as it's partly down to The Addams Family…
It's a collaboration…
Yeah, I think everything is, instead of just one thing. The initial attraction is Wednesday Addams and Lurch having a nice dance together and is a joy to watch. The music is secondary and in a way. I got lots of compliments and hits on my page so it served its purpose. It's a happy song in a way, a celebratory song so was good to get celebratory images to go with it.
Back in 2013 I got to see The Happy Fallen a couple of times and Mike Murray was on guitar with you, but recently you've gone back to playing on your own. Are you going to carry on your own or are you going to introduce more people into the live act and is that the way of the future for you?
There's no rules, I've really got no rules about music, I love playing with other people more than I do on my own which also sounds a bit wrong. Playing with other people is always the best, any musician will tell you that, he gets a bounce off people and it adds to the enjoyment. The reason I ended up on my own was it is just so hard to get people together: the drummers gone away for the weekend, or, the bass players gone on holiday, so things are put back, the guitarist is having a breakdown… you're more mobile, basically, when you're on your own.
I think one of the problems you have busy start to get older is that you have all these outside influences with families etc. that when you are younger, as musicians, you are absolutely committed to what you're doing…
And I haven't changed from that, I am always first in the rehearsal room and the last to leave, the one who is always there, and I still have that mentality. I appreciate that some people can't do it because they have a life outside of music which I really don't. I am still that 17-year-old that's raring to make it. And me and Monica are probably still going to work together.
I saw you in Stockport at the Guild with Monica singing, and it was a really good complement of the two of you on stage, I think you were playing acoustic and electric guitars too…
And that was the first one working together, and I don't know whether you remember the stage but it was like playing in Euston station because it was bang in the middle of the entrance so people were just walking past.
The venue itself was awful, but it was a really interesting gig, and the other artists were struggling as well as yourselves.
Yeah, just like a station but it was our first one. But Monica and I have done some more gigs since with me on acoustic and Monica on vocals. But she has her own band now, the New Southern Electrikk, so she has commitments there obviously, but it would be nice to do a full electric with backing either tapes or other musicians involved. So to get back to your question I'm not adverse to playing with other people, I love that, it's mainly just the difficulty of organising people which is why I've backed myself into a corner in a way.
I saw you open at the Winachi Tribe gig at the Ruby Lounge, and although the audience was a bit thin on the ground it was great to see you onstage again, do you have plans for gigs in the future?
Not as such, no. Mainly because I have a different sound in mind for what I want to do which is less backing. Even though it sounds good it's a bit of a copout having a really good backing tape with the full drums, the full bass, guitars and me playing the live guitar and singing. I want to strip down the backing so I have to do more live. I played everything on the backing so it's not like I'm using other people although music, and I want to do weirder stuff, it is difficult to explain.
What sort of genres are you looking at? I remember seeing you at the Tiger Lounge and trying to think what your sound reminded me of, and I seem to recall that there was this droning sound that was going on, in a positive way, and I found it very Hawkwind-ish in a way…
I'm trying to get away from, although I love the basic song sound, I love songs even though drony Dead Skeletons, Hawkwind, one chord, I am a sucker for good songs, the classic craft of good songwriting, and this is where the dichotomy comes in. Part of me wants to write classic songs and the other part wants to scrap all that, throw the rulebook out of the window and use sounds.
The album I've just released is a bit schizoid, there are classic song structures on it and one chord, one note droning stuff on it and that's why needed to get that album out of the way, it was a mix of styles and now I can get to a newer sound. No doubt I will go back to songs at some point but not recorded in the same way, there will be some weird sounds on there, stranger sounds.
Can you run us through a couple of the tracks on the album, tell us what they're about and about the single as well?
Open Wide, a track on the album, which is the song most people have picked up on and has been played on loads of radio stations, it's been played in Greece, radio stations in America, it's been played all over because it's a twangy, beaty, up groove with not your typical lyrics. The lyrics are a bit punk, but with my voice I could never sing like a punk singer. I'm a bit monotone, I don't have a huge range vocally, the lyrics are a bit aggressive, confrontational whereas the music is proper groovy!
There is another long called Move On which has a classic song structure which is just an acoustic. Also on the album have put a description of every song, what it was about and why I wrote it. I think it's nice, even on downloaded albums, to make it feel like an old album, where you get loads of information. You would sit down and open up and read the album before or as you are playing it, who played what, stories and more writing on the album and I always found that to be more enjoyable so I do that with the download which may be a bit strange. Most bands with downloads are a bit boring, it’s just here are the songs, these are the members of the band, it’s nice to be mysterious I suppose, but I am not very good at being cool and mysterious. I want to be as clear as possible with what I am doing, which is why I waffled and did a big write-up to explain what the songs are all about and people seem to appreciate it.
You can purchase The Happy Fallen’s album, Lost And Found, on BandCamp…