SUIT YOURSELF INTERVIEWS
FAY HALLAM - International musical Icon, Mod royalty, writer, performer and now video maker has been at the top of her game for many years, kicking off as part of the Mod super group Makin' Time before moving onto The Prime Movers and Phaze, Fay has recorded tunes for Acid Jazz and Stiff records amongst others in her early career and now produces music under her own moniker The Fay Hallam group as well as solo projects. Fay has also worked with legendary producer Andy Lewis and recently the hugely talented Magnus Carlson, in this fantastic exclusive interview Fay opens up to us and talks about her early days in Makin' Time, her love of the Mod scene, her inspirations, her current projects and the future of both herself and her band.
Hi Fay, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for spending some time with Suit Yourself Modernists and it’s readers, can we begin by asking you a bit about the young Fay Hallam, where you are from, what it was like growing up there, your early Mod influences and how you fell in love with the Mod Scene.
I was born in Cannock, Staffordshire in 1966 and we moved to Wolverhampton in 1976. My dad was a fantastic pianist and organist and was out playing up to 6 nights a week during the 70's. He sometimes played with a drummer, but never a band, and he taught me organ when I was 8 years old. I started off playing from songbooks in the house, but quite quickly realised I could make up my own songs. My dad never understood why I would want to do this, but likewise, I couldn't understand why you wouldn't!
By the time I was 14, I'd met a local group of mods, one who could play bass, one who learned guitar, and we started to jam together. As lads, they were heavily into The Jam, but also all the cool 60's stuff we were dancing to at a local scooter club discos. It was the soul and 60's pop stuff I loved and I wrote from those influences. But as a musician, I am influenced by nearly all music. You have to be or you'd never develop as a songwriter. My first song at around 15 was a rip-off of 'She's got Medals'. I thought I could use the running bass line and make it into something better (David, I'm so sorry. Forgive me). But it was a start to creating my own music.
I met bassist Martin Blunt (I think at a scooter club night in Willenhall around 1983) and he'd asked me along to play keys in an RnB band. I discovered that playing the same 3 chords over and over was definitely not for me. I was bored rigid and left after a couple of rehearsals. But Martin got back in touch and said we should do our own songs. So Makin' Time was formed and I began writing with a purpose. We clicked because we were mods. [We had a dep drummer once when Neil was away. The new drummer was a lovely guy, but he wasn't a mod and the whole sound shifted into something terrifyingly like Simple Minds]
At the same time, I discovered Pop Art and this influenced my drawing and painting. I made flyers for our gigs and created the logo for the band.
The early to mid-80s was the time of New Romantics (ruffles and eyeliner) and Trendies (jeans and white trainers) but we dressed well. Buying ski pants, suede jackets and unique tops was relatively easy because charity shops were full of all the old 60's clothes. I loved wearing stuff that was different and well-fitting. If I couldn't find something, I made it...though not always very well! 35 years on, you still recognise people who were, or are, part of this scene.
Can you remember the first time you were influenced by music and how did it develop in the young Fay.
I'd grown up watching my dad go out and play alone but always knew that I would never be able to do that and that I didn't want to. From the first band rehearsals, I wanted to play with other people. Making music with others is a wonderful thing and it's never stopped being a wonderful thing. The scope for sound creation is one thing, the sense of bonding and camaraderie is another.
Once Makin Time started I needed my own gear. Up until then I'd borrowed my dad's keys. In The Wolverhampton Piano and Organ shop in town, there were 2 organs.... a pristine Vox Continental and a beaten up Hammond L100. Dad was going to get a loan I'd pay back weekly. I went home and told him I wanted the Hammond. Next week I came home and there was the Vox. "The Hammond was rubbish" he said. So I put the Vox through a Leslie amp to calm its awful harshness.
Being 17 and in a band with 20-year-old boys was not without its downsides. Youth and immaturity on both sides meant I felt occasionally ostracised, but mainly we had a great time and there was lots of laughter. You can't be in the company of Midlanders and not have a laugh. Most of the time though, musically, I didn't think we were that special. We often had no control over our sound at those early gigs, and we were young and inexperienced, but we focused on writing the best songs we could.
Where were the places that you used to hang out? who gave you your first break? what were your early experiences like playing at Mod venues and was is nerve-racking being such a pivotal part of the band being both vocally and Hammond organ talented?
Makin Time played at scooter club organised events around the Midlands and then in London. Martin's brother funded the early gigs. Our audiences were great. They were mainly mods and scooterists and we always had a good enthusiastic crowd and brilliant 60s discos afterwards. I enjoyed those discos as much as playing. This was the era of pub fighting though (with glasses and glass bottles) and there was usually some kind of skirmish by the end of the night. I remember feeling routinely worried sick someone would be badly injured or killed.
Eddie Piller asked us to play at a Mod Alldayer at Ilford and then the 100 Club. He'd formed a small record label called Countdown, but when he got a deal with Stiff there was some money floating about for us to make an album. That was Rhythm and Soul in 1985.
I don't remember ever feeling nervous about playing. I've felt that gigs had gone badly or I could have played better, but I never felt the responsibility of singing and playing, particularly when there was another singer in the band.
What it was like releasing the successful four albums Rhythm and Soul, No lumps of fat or gristle guaranteed, Time, Trouble and money and Unchain my heart, being asked to make videos and chart success and how the band reacted to the success and at what point did you realise you hit the big time.
Ha! I really don't think we hit the big time. We put out 'Rhythm and Soul' and Stiff threw pots of money into half-page adverts in the music press and a video that cost £10,000. Bloody £10,000! .... for a day's shoot.... we all thought it was nuts. I think it got 2 TV showings and not in its entirety. No wonder Stiff went under. They put us on a UK tour with an American band called The Untouchables. We also did a tour of Germany which I enjoyed because I thought Germany was amazing and still do.
I remember not feeling very excited by it all at the time. I didn't think anything was going to happen that would change my life greatly. And it didn't.
We were on an independent label and were battling against powerful established record companies. A separate Indie chart began not long after the band ended. It would have done us some good had it been around when we were.
When Stiff folded we made our second album under our own steam and in a fraction of the time (same producers/engineer). The first one took a month with us staying in a nice hotel on Charing Cross Road. The second took days. But I liked the second one better. I think the sound of both of them is not entirely pleasant, but a lot of the songs are great!
Can you tell us a couple of favourite stories of yours from this era.
We once got on stage with Syd the guitarist tuning up and tatting about whilst introducing us to the audience. "Good evening. We're....." then he broke a string. So what he said was "Good evening. We're...shit."
Some flared trousers nearly caused our van to crash. Parked up, the driver was climbing into the back to get something when his huge flares caught on the handbrake, released it, and we rolled back into on-coming traffic.
Eddie Piller used to call me Faymond.
After achieving such success can you tell us what happened to bring the end to Makin' Time?
Stiff going under changed the momentum and at the same time, after 2 years together, we wanted a change. 2 years seems like 10 when you're a teenager.
The Prisoners were signed to the same record label as us and broke up at the same time. Martin and I were keen to do something with guitarist Graham Day and after Martin found drummer Jon Brookes we formed The Gift Horses and did a tour of Germany. But it was too difficult to carry on with half the band living in Kent and half in Wolverhampton. Martin and Jon went on to form The Charlatans.
After a brief time as part of the Gift Horses in 1987, the next hugely successful group The Prime Movers was formed, another heavily influenced Mod sound, can you tell us about this era, how musically different it was from Makin Time, and releasing three more successful albums under this name. also, about some memorable Prime Mover gigs.
I didn't play keys in The Gift Horses as we wanted to try a wholly guitar-based sound, but this group was a return to a big sound and I finally bought a split white painted M100. Allan Crockford played bass and Wolf Howard drums. The songs were heavier, the sound was bigger and live we were a little like Deep Purple, but with a volume battle going on at most gigs between the guitar and the organ. I blew up at least one Leslie.
We had a few great years of touring in France, Italy and Germany, the biggest gigs being in Germany. We self-funded our albums and bought a big Renault Master van to lug everything around Europe. I played whilst pregnant with my first child in 1990 and then we toured taking the baby with us the following year, but it was incredibly stressful. After my second child, I went to university for 4 years and stopped playing music completely.
The Prime movers sadly came to an end, but your huge talent thankfully didn’t and once again found yourself in the cool band Phaze for a few years, can you tell us about this time and the later project Speakeasy.
After some years of not playing a friend asked me along to a rehearsal to play keys in his band. I came home from it wanting to write songs again. So I did.
Allan Crockford was desperate to play the guitar, even though he's a greatly talented bassist, so he joined me and Phaze began. I wrote 2 albums and we recorded them on an 8 track machine in our garage. Ed was running Acid Jazz by now and asked us to do Indian Ropeman for one of his Totally Wired compilations.
Speakeasy was just a recording project put forward by Paul Hooper-Keeley. He'd already put out my next album Realm on his label and wanted to put a group of us together to record a one-off single. It was there I met the lovely Buddy Ascot...
Where do you get your inspiration from as a writer?
I get my inspiration from a combination of wanting to create something better than the last thing I did, from listening to great songs and using things I've been thinking about to fit the nature of the music. I write the words and music at the same time.
No genre of music is out of bounds to get inspiration from, but I generally enjoy 60s/70s soul and funky stuff.
There have been a couple of times I thought I'd written my last album and didn't think I had any more songs in me. Then suddenly something would kick start me again.
The recent Album ‘Lost in sound’ with the Bongolian must have been fun to make, both of you being Hammond fiends, your amazing voice and his bongo madness, we can only imagine what those sessions must have been like.
Nass (the Bongolian) was great. It was good to work with someone keen and full of ideas and we shared a similar background. He wanted to work with me because I write songs and he generally did instrumentals.
With just 2 of us playing the decision-making was a lot more focused and it was after this I taught myself how to record. And that was a revelation.
Up until this time I was still using a piano and tape recorder to write songs and it had been great, but I've written the last few albums on Logic.
Working closely with people like Magnus Carlson, a huge star in his own right and great producers and musicians like Andy Lewis and others must give you a great thrill, to us it’s amazing after all these years that there are people like yourselves who still strive to produce great Mod orientated music and play to Mods of all ages in packed venues. What are your thoughts on the current wave of music being produced and how does it feel to now achieve legendary status within the scene?
Andy Lewis is an inspiration. He came to help us out on bass one night whilst still playing with Paul Weller and ended up producing the next 2 albums. He is an extremely talented individual, producing a number 1 gold selling album for Magnus Carlson and he makes my songs sound amazing. I've never enjoyed making music more than I do now. The people in my band are talented and positive, I am focused to do it and we have the means to work out of studios if we want so there are no time constraints.
I met Magnus in March this year and he too is a great guy and wonderful talent. He invited me over to DJ at his club in Stockholm and then join his band playing keys for the summer touring Sweden. It was a magical time for me and a treat to play with Sweden's best jazz musicians. Magnus was eager to have a club gig amidst all his huge festival shows, so organised a last minute event at the Debaser club in Stockholm (on the hottest day in Swedish living memory!). He got Andy Lewis and Dave Edwards over to DJ and it was sell-out fantastic night. If rather warm.
It's flattering you think I'm a legend. I'm just a very happy person.
Your recent released albums, Corona and House of Now both saw rave reviews, critics saying that House of now is your strongest album to date, how do you keep musically motivated?
Corona was a solo album. I wrote it after yet another beautiful Italian tour....sunshine, music, wine and food, all the great friends I have there.... and I recorded it myself. It took 9 months of work and it's not perfect, but I learned a lot from doing it. Kieran McAleer has drummed with me for 6 years now and he handles all social media and gigs. He's steadfast and kind and his enthusiasm keeps everything rolling along. I've told him I'll stop when he does!
We have a fab young horn section in the group led by Angus Law who is on top of his game and my youngest son Josh (who's played the piano with me for the past 12 years) is a fantastic jazz pianist. These things keep me musically motivated.
I agree House of Now is our best album yet. This is because I am a better songwriter and because Andy Lewis is a gifted producer. However, we're just about to bring out the next album in Spring 2019. It's called 'Propeller' and it's even better.
Without realising it you’ve gone from Mod pin-up lead singer to celebrated performing artist, looking back over your career are there any words of advice you would give a young Fay Hallam?
Cris you are making me laugh. I wasn't a pin-up. Something that was attractive about the mod scene in the 80's was that it was the antithesis of a world that promoted the likes of Samantha Fox
I think it's a wonderful thing that I'm still making music and that it's enjoyed. Music and the people I know through it give me so much joy. The young Fay Hallam would probably not have taken any advice from the likes of me. Crikey this is weird.
What advice would you give an aspiring artist?
Listen to music that has at least got a good melody or interesting chords or a fantastic rhythm. Don't buy in to the Simon Cowell produced banal generic crap that's formed the basis of popular music for 2 decades. Write your own songs.
What does the future hold for the band and you personally? More music? More Gigs?
New album out in the Spring with a single out in March. So now I'm in the process of making a video for said single. I haven't made a video since the £10,000 extravaganza in 1985 and now I'm the one behind the camera (I should add the word phone after that). Then we've got gigs in early 2019 at the Half Moon, Putney (9th February) and Revelation, Ashford (30th March) Brighton with you guys (26th April) I also play in Il Senato, an Italian band, with my good friend Luca Re. We'll be touring Italy next May....if Brexit allows me to leave these shores and come back again. If it doesn't I will live in Arco and eat parmesan.
Can we ask you for two of your favourite memories, one from the early days and a more recent one.
A coach load of London fans drove up to The Longacres, Willenhall to see Makin' Time around 1984 and the place was heaving. Completely full. Some of the band's parents were there too. The DJ, an intense guy called Aggy, had gaffer taped all the electrics to the floor from the stage out across the room in a big bundle. Halfway through the set we lost all power (a fuse had blown) but he was frantically looking around to find the cause of the problem. He squared up to Martin's kind and meek middle-aged mum, "It's you. You fucking idiot. You pulled the fucking cable out."
The most I've ever laughed in my life was a day on tour a couple of years ago when we had a whole day.... a solid 14 hours... of thinking up food-based music puns. We had hundreds of them.. 'Salmon Dave' 'Pike and Tuna Turner' 'Madonna kebab" 'Paella Fitzgerald'.....on and on and on. We were delirious. I even asked the audience that night if they knew any but they were Italian and looked confused and worried for us. Finally, exhausted and all punned-out, we went to bed to stop all this nonsense. Until I woke in the morning with 'Cheese sauce and the Mary Chain'.
Thanks Fay, lastly where can our readers buy your music and learn more about your illustrious career?
A new website is coming imminently. I've released music on many different labels so this site should act as a point of reference. Meantime, the latest albums are available on Blow Up and Well Suspect records.
Fay's Facebook page can be found HERE
Fay's new album Propeller is available NOW from HERE
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