Wednesday, March 16, 2011

a little communication with David McAlmont

It has been a good year for David McAlmont, ladies and gents. One of the UK's premiere vocalists, David has seen fit to return to the live stage and is currently playing to enraptured audiences with his unique blend of rock, soul and standards.

Simultaneously with his current tour, David has taken the opportunity to release "Live From Leicester Square", his first live longplayer which captured his vibrant performances in front of a sold out audience.

For the uninitiated, David's voice blends the unbridled joy Stevie Wonder, the world weary ache of Nina Simone, the grand dame diva delivery of Shirley Bassey and the passionate arch of Billy McKenzie sprinkled with lovely Princely funkisms.

Not only has David written some fine gems like "Yes" and "Falling", two collabs with guitar legend Bernard Butler, but he wraps his velvet pipes around some truly inspired covers like "I'm A Better Man" and "Never, Never, Never". All of these and more McAlmont magic are lovingly delivered on "Live From Leicester Square". The two disc set features his entire show with the CD including two, brand new, studio recordings - "Isn't It A Pity" and "Grapefruit Moon". The companion DVD is the visual document of the show.

"Isn't It A Pity" was originally written and recorded by George Harrison, but made equally as famous by premiere soul singer, Nina Simone. It is her version that inspired David to record the song and imbue it with his heartfelt vocal style.

Here's a recent, stripped down performance of "Isn't It A Pity" David did for UK station, Smooth Radio, accompanied by the piano stylings of his current collaborator Guy Davies.

Tom Waits has inspired and been interpreted by everyone from Rod Stewart to Annie Lennox. Now, David lends his formidable vocal prowess and uncanny, interpretive, pop sensibilities to Tom's work. The anthemic and slightly boozy "Grapefruit Moon" was originally recorded in 1973 and featured on Tom's landmark album, "Closing Time".

And now, here's a little taster of what you will find on David McAlmont's latest collection.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. McAlmont in between tour stops to discuss life, love and the pursuit of a sustainable career in the music "biz". He gave his time graciously and answered all manner of burning questions.

At the turn of the century, you recorded an album entitled "Be" for Hut. A couple of singles, "Working" and "Easy", were previewed and then the album never saw the light of day. Can you elaborate on the situation without causing any litigious activity? :) Will "Be" ever be released?

I don’t know if "Be" will see the light of day. I wanted to make a Myspace profile for it, but that site is a mess now so those plans stalled. I asked my manager to help me get dropped from Hut because of their bizarre attitude towards my work with the advent of Garage (the music) and Craig David. It got to a point where Garage was all the rage and a remix was commissioned on the song "Working". I was invited to re-sing the vocal by the remixer Sweet Pea. When I did, the record company thought I should do the same with most of the album. I was surprised when "Easy" became the single, but the reasons for releasing it were that it was the most Craig David-like thing I had recorded.

It has been stated that the first McAlmont & Butler singles were only ever supposed to be special events - little bursts of musical energy without the support of a tour or promotional activities. Someone once described them as brilliant flashes of light you had to catch before they diffused into the night sky. Were they only meant to be that way?

They weren't even supposed to be "they". They were supposed to be "Yes". Bernard had the glorious notion of making a one off musical statement, but a motley crew of record companies and managers prodded and jabbed us into doing more. The idea would have worked better in the download era.

How did it come to pass that you recorded the second M&B album? And why only one single, "Speed", on Rough Trade in 2006?

"Bring It Back" was a happy reunion. Bernard had gotten over the acrimony to the extent that he could hear my voice on some new music that he was writing. I was anxious to make amends and an opportunity arose. After "Bring It Back" was finished we started working on new material that got put on ice after a hideous experience at EMI, courtesy of one of the most odious characters I've ever had the misfortune to encounter. This experience was so demoralizing that Bernard and I went our separate ways for a bit; Bernard reteamed with Brett, and I made an album for my mom. "Speed" was something that we managed to salvage and release from that ignominious era.

How would you describe your clutch of shows in NYC last year? How did they come about? You mentioned they were your very first shows on American shores. Why such a long wait?

I was delighted to play in the states for the first time; that little cluster of shows felt timely and right; I was grateful and very happy. There used to be a lot of corporate nonsense: every time I went to one of those suspect, record company meet and greet events, the non-UK record companies would spout the same bull-crap, "We’re just waiting for the story." Consequently, I barely played out of the UK at all. The advent of social networking has changed everything: Facebook friends flew us to New York to perform a surprise birthday party; another Facebook friend got wind of it and said he’d arrange for us to play additional shows. That was all that was necessary. Amazingly, all of these US fans came to see it and me amazes me that getting me some American shows had been such a headache for "well-oiled" corporate machines.

In classic 70s and early 80s form, "Saturday" and "Look At Yourself" were stand alone singles in the 90s. Neither one was included on an album. Was there any conscious reason behind those decisions?

"Saturday" was a limited edition collectible that I created for the Pride festival of that year, but I absolutely adore that song. "Look At Yourself" was pre "A Little Communication". It was written early in the writing process and used as a water-tester. As I type this I am becoming aware of some real record company floundering. After its release we radically altered the musical direction and "Look At Yourself" became too noisy for the "A Little Communication" album.

Similarly, why was "The Coldest Day On Earth" not included on "The Glare", your collaboration with Michael Nyman?

Paul Morley invited us to contribute to his Guardian Blog in December of 2009, a month after "The Glare" was released. They asked us if we had a seasonal song and I thought that we could do something with Michael's "The Piano" theme as it was going to be a Guardian exclusive, but Michael's label fell in love with it and insisted that we record and release it.

Speaking of which, Mr. Nyman's audience seemed a bit puzzled by your collaboration while your fans rightly effused heaps of praise on it. Your thoughts?

There was a lot of bad will from Michael's fans. Some of them were downright offensive to me personally and surprisingly rude to Michael. I think they felt that I was the wrong kind of personality or voice. As fans of minimalism they perceived me as being too busy, too soulful, untrue to their vision of what Michael was, whereas my fans enjoy my collaborative spirit and enjoy the anticipation of who I will "collar" next. :)

You seem to enjoy recording covers. Your rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Conversation", from your first album, is outstanding. What is your criteria for recording a cover?

Thank you. If I respond to a song emotionally, which is to say if a song brings me close to tears, it's a no-brainer. I adore jazz standards and really can't get enough of them. Surprisingly I rarely touch the songs by artiste's that I hold most dear. I'm yet to cover Prince, Stevie or the Pet Shop Boys.

There seemed to be a few gaps between albums over the last decade or so. It appears you've come roaring back with Guy Davies as your musical compadre. What was the catalyst for your return? How did you and Guy strike up this current collaborative effort?

It's been a long friendship and we have a huge love and respect for each other. We're both looked upon as two talents with huge potential, and after my coming close to quitting and Guy's seemingly endless, mind-numbing stint in the private sector, we decided to commit to each other and "Do this thing!". It's the happiest chapter of my career. There have been gaps over the years and I have to file those under bad luck; I got frequently stonewalled by labels that didn't know what they wanted, although I did know.

The way you have taken social media and made it work in your favor is quite impressive. Hue And Cry, another favorite of mine, have approached their career in a similar fashion by engaging their dedicated fanbase. Was this intentional or did it happen organically (ie. by accident)? :) How do you find the experience of being laid bare to your audience, so to speak?

I've always been communicative. One of the early conflicts I had with "management" was the issue of me speaking to my audience. It was perceived by some as being "uncool" or "too cabaret". What pray is so wrong with cabaret? I had no idea what to expect when social networking was suggested, but you're right, I have really embraced it. I think the day I realized that I had an on-line audience was the day I grasped that I could create for and entertain that audience using social media, that it was just another set of raw materials. It's been life-changing.

You're about to undertake your first solo tour across the UK in quite some time. Why the lengthy break from the live experience?

Once again, bad luck: I'm not lazy, I'm incredibly creative, but my business acumen is bogus. That's why I need a compadre like Guy who addresses those gaps. It's quite different since we reconnected.

Prior to the current tour, you played a few, intimate salon dates. What was the thinking behind that? Will there be more salon appearances this year?

I saw Jane Siberry do a salon gig in Manchester and was blown away by the experience. I live for intimacy and interaction, so for me the home concert is incredibly powerful and moving and most of all true. I would love "salons" to be central to what Guy and I do, but I think that a lot of work has to be done to make them really take off.

Lastly, where do you find your fabulous, bejewelled baubles?

In London there is a lovely, eccentric ex-actor called Christopher St. James on Cecil Court off St Martin's Lane. His jewellery is incredibly beautiful and heart-stoppingly reasonable. Approach at your peril. He creates addicts.

With that, Mr. McAlmont was off in his tour van. Whooosh!

Please note that I will be tweeting, updating my blog and causing general mayhem at David's show at Dingwall's in London on March 27. Huzzah!


  1. Lovely chat. I always wondered what had happened to Be... damn that gap in my nearly complete collection!

  2. Fantastic interview! All is revealed... almost!

  3. Love the music geek q's, Vinny. Lots of my own questions answered.

    And he's a Pet Shop Boys fan? Who knew?!

  4. @DanProject76 - I have the two singles from "Be". I'd love to hear the entire album.

  5. @xolondon - Thanks! Would you like to know his favorite color? :)

  6. @roddale - Thanks! I'd love to hear him cover a PSB tune. Something a bit obscurante.

  7. Meanwhile, why do his fans in America get nothing? We're still waiting for the release of "Set One."