This interview originally appeared in Beyond Belief #8 back in December 1996.
“I used to do a gig in Liverpool. Me and my partner used to play this “lonely-hearts club” ‘cause it was the worst gig you could possibly have. Early in the evening, all the ladies sat on one side of the room and all the men sat on the other and completely ignored each other and anybody that was singing. And once they had about 15 gin and tonics they’d just talk to each other and ignore us. So it was a great gig”.
Elvis Costello on stage at the Edmonton Folk Festival, August 10, 1995
I first had the pleasure of meeting Allan Mayes back in 1984. I had became obviously intrigued after reading a small mention in the Austin Chronicle about this guy who was playing in town and had a record that he sold featuring a song co-written with Elvis Costello. A few weeks later I noticed he would be performing in my home town of San Antonio.
Well those were the days when I could still drag my wife to strange places to do strange things. So one week night we took off to the local Chelsea Street Pub, a regional establishment found in large shopping malls that served food and drink and featured live entertainment.
There we embarked upon a talented performer who played cover versions of popular songs in a pleasant and interesting way. Back by a guitar, synthesizer and drum machine, Allan easily captivated the young crowd of predominantly air force recruits out for a good time with the hits of the day (The Police, Elton John, etc.).
In between sets, I approached Allan and over a few beers I was shocked to hear for the first time of EC’s musical career (1972-3) before his first band, Flip City. We chatted all too briefly and I wrote a small piece at the time for the Elvis Costello Information Service (ECIS). I bought a few copies of his LP which included “Maureen & Sam”, an early working of “Ghost Train”, credited to Costello/Mayes. Returning to the stage, Allan then played a tasteful “Alison” which he dedicated to “the two nice people” he just met.
Fortunately the story did not end there, as this past April, fate had me stumble across the name “Allan Mayes” appearing at the San Antonio Chelsea Street Pub some 10 years after that first meeting. Approaching Allan before his first night’s show, he was most eager to do an interview for the magazine.
What follows transpired over some coffee one Saturday afternoon at a San Antonio diner.
Why don’t we start at the beginning? Where did you and Elvis meet?
This morning when I was thinking about this, it all dawned on me that we actually met before we played together. In 1969, I was in a trendy poetry-rock band. I was 16 and the other guys in the band were more like 18. They were from the same high school and ran a poetry magazine called Medium. The band was called Medium Theater. I suspect that the magazine had some backing or encouragement from Ross (MacManus, EC’s dad). I also suspect that Ross had said to Declan: “Look these guys are all quite hip and trendy, you’re goofing around in school, you’ve got these artistic tendencies, why don’t you go meet these really hippie guys, there might be an outlet for some of your artistic talents”? I remember meeting Dec very briefly at a house where these guys lived. He said he played, I found out who his dad was, and then he disappeared.
Was your next meeting with him at the 1971 New Year’s Eve party mentioned in George Gimarc’s book “Punk Diary 1970-1979″?
Yes, we were both invited separately to this party. We both took our guitars and sat in a bedroom on New Year’s Eve while everyone else was drinking and chasing women. I mentioned Neil Young, The Band or something to this guy who I still hadn’t remembered that I’d met before. For the first time in my life I had met someone who had heard of Neil Young, The Band and Van Morrison. It was like the typical John Lennon and Paul McCartney thing: “You know all that stuff, let’s play together”. So we just sat on the beds for three hours and it was like: “Do you know “The Weight”, do you know “I Shall Be Released”. We just sat there and played all these songs and just had a great time. So we possibly exchanged phone numbers.
At this time I had a little three-piece band named Rusty. It was me, a bass player called Alan Brown and a singer called Dave Jago. We had this little trio doing acoustic Neil Young, America and Van Morrison-type stuff and some original material. I phoned Dec a few days later and said we had this little band and why don’t you come play with us. He did and we became a four-piece: him and I playing guitar and singing, the bass player and the singer. Within six months the other two had left, leaving Rusty as a duo with me and Declan. We progressed our way through all the obvious cover versions of the time. We also had our own songs that we wrote.
We had a great affinity for harmonizing although our vocal range is so similar. Somehow or other, unless my memory is hazy and I’m thinking it was better than it was, we somehow used to be able to do a song like Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Wooden Ships” and sounded like four-part harmonies. I guess we both, more by luck than instinct, used to go in the right direction for the harmonies. Without any musical training we used to both know what to sing, and without any planning got this magically-arranged four-part harmony! We started doing both of our own songs and all these cover songs and working these little college gigs.
Did you start right away working professionally?
No, I had a day job. I can’t remember whether Dec did as well at the time or not.
Well, by that I meant you were then doing gigs for money?
Oh, yes. At the time, 1972, we would have been getting paid on a good night, £8, which then was not too bad for a part-time musician.
So you would have seen Elvis’s first appearance in front of a paying audience?
I suspect so. I seem to remember him telling me stories that he’d played with his dad once. His dad as you know used to play a cabaret thing. So I suspect that around about 15 years old, Declan had gone along and his dad had said “Well you strum some of these chords along with the band”. I seem to remember him telling me he’d done one other thing like that before. But as far as him doing anything of his own, he certainly, until he walked on stage with me, definitely had done nothing in front of a paying or even a free audience.
Now was this all based in the Liverpool area at the time?
What kind of venues?
Pubs and schools. We used to do poetry readings. The poetry thing was still quite big then. If there were going to be four poets doing a reading somewhere, we’d be asked to do the musical section. We’d go and do our own stuff which was poetic in a way. It was all arty and what seems pretentious now, but at the time it was acceptable for people to be reading their poetry and singing their own songs. Declan didn’t have a car and never drove. One night he was getting a cab home from a gig. The cab driver owned a club. Why he was driving a cab if he owned a club I’ll never remember. When he saw Dec getting into the cab with a guitar he said “I got this club called The Temple Bar (which is on Dale Street in Liverpool city centre). Oh, you play folk music? Why don’t you come play a night every week in my bar? And Dec phoned me the next day and said: “We’d been offered this gig. Guy’s never seen us play but wants us to run this place. We take the door money.” We did a regular gig every Tuesday for possibly a year. We used to play a set, do a solo set each, play another set together and invite local guys to come play for free or pay some guys a couple of dollars. We met a lot of local folk musicians then. On a good night we used to get 20 people in there. The whole door take would be £5 and we’d split it between us and the other band. It was all very “Mickey Mouse”, tiny, but it was great because it was a regular gig. I have cuttings from the Liverpool paper advertising us. We met quite a lot of people, some of which I went on to play with.
Did you develop any kind of a following or was it more of a casual kind of thing?
No, we did, we had a little bit of a following. All bands have little camp followers, but it wasn’t 40-50 people, it was more like 7 or 8. Live music at that point was not very strong for the type of thing that we were doing.
Did you have some original things that you were performing at this time?
Both of us had original material. We tended to do more of his because they were way better, or I thought so. Maybe he thought the opposite, that my songs were better. At our age we were too young to be objective about what a good was or a bad song. I always loved doing his songs. They were killer to sing even then. We had one song that we wrote together that we were doing at the time as well, maybe two. One song of his I adapted and one song we actually wrote two separate sections. But apart from that it was like “here’s my song, here’s what you play, here’s what you sing”. But I would say that would only be about 30% of our set. The rest were covers.
Was one of those songs “Maureen and Sam”?
Yes, it was called at the time when he wrote it, “Maureen and Dan”. I forget what part I had in it at the time we were doing it. It was some time later, long after we parted that this song always stuck with me for some reason. I just thought it was a killer song. Somehow or other I’d taken it and chopped it and changed it around, and I forget how much of it I did at the time when we were together and how much of it I did after we parted.
Did you know that it eventually became a song called “Ghost Train”?
Now you’re the only one who’s ever told me that. I’ve never heard it. I’ve never forgotten that you told me that. I don’t have a version of it. It’ll be interesting to hear. I’ve actually got the original manuscript of that.
Any other of those songs ever develop into something he used later in his career?
You would know better than I would. I’ve not played a lot of his stuff. I’ve not been an avid follower. The singles and the first album I listened to quite a lot. Certainly nothing went on the first album that had any bearing whatsoever on the things he’d been doing for what would have only been two or three years previously. So I suspect that if any of them had been used they had mostly been used on the first album. So you say “Ghost Train” was what, three or four albums later?
Actually “Ghost Train” came out as a B-side for the fourth album.
So he’s obviously kept things either in his head or on paper that were still coming out. So I’d have to sit and listen to everything. But I’ve never heard any indications of any lines or titles or anything that he’d used in our days.
Tell me some of the covers that you did together.
Let’s refer to some of my lists here.
Note: Here Alan referred to a very meticulous hand-written notebook he maintained of all his professional appearances including the dates, locations, set lists and even what he/they were paid.
So in answer to your question, a lot of Band and Brinsley Schwarz stuff. We used to do “Happy Together” by The Turtles, Randy Newman’s “Old Kentucky Home”. Also, Crosby Stills & Nash, Neil Young (“Cottonfields”, “Heart Of Gold”, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”) Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”. I would say that Neil Young and Brinsley Schwarz were the bulk of our set.
It must be a real special treat that Elvis got to work with most of these people.
Yes, whenever I’d seen the pictures or read about it I’ve thought: “What’s going through your mind? Do you remember and do you how keen you were about these guys”. These were like mega-heroes. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere had only been out a year and After the Gold Rush had just come out. These were gods to us!
How about Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead?
He was. I never was. We never did a Dead song that I could remember. But I knew that he was into the Dead. Another one that he was really heavily into that I never got hot on was Jesse Winchester. I can distinctly remember him saying “Jesse Winchester, this is the way to go! Gloom and doom, this is so dark.”
You know he just released a covers album that included Jesse Winchester’s “Pay Day”.
I think there was a song called “Black Dog” or something that I remember him talking about. We never did a David Ackles’ song, although I remember him having “American Gothic”. The Dead, Winchester and Ackles were his people and I was then struggling to get the Brinsley Schwarz thing across to him which I eventually did as we know.
What about Gram Parsons?
Yes, I remember it being mentioned. I remember the Red Hot Burritos album and Burritos Deluxe, I remember him touting those around. But I could never relate to that far into the country thing. Another album we used to talk about was Will the Circle Be Unbroken by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, that big triple album, and Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash and David Crosby as well. They were all his favorites where as I was more of a Neil Young, Steve Stills, Jamie Robertson.
What were your and Elvis’s aspirations at the time? Were there plans or was this just fun?
No, it was always super-stardom. I don’t remember us ever talking about it, but it was certainly in the back of my mind at all times.
I mean not only in 1970-71 at 16-17, but even in 1980 I was still thinking I can still get a break. It must have been the same for him. That was all we cared about. You know, when can we stop doing all this shit and do things properly, the way we want. He did exactly the right thing because it was never going to come to us in Liverpool. There was no way despite the fact we had little local managers chasing us a couple of times. There was nobody with any pull or a checkbook or “Hey, I’m from A&M Records”. There was never anything that close. But it was always somebody who said “Hey I could manage you guys and I could put in these four folk clubs. Can we change your name?”
Which you probably could have done yourself?
Yeah, in those days you could walk into a folk club and all you had to do was go and play for free and then the next time around they’d pay you a few dollars. But, yes, our aspirations were for nothing less than what he went out and got. And to do that, then as today, you have to take the mountain to Mohammed and that is, you have to move to London. Cause nobody, but nobody is ever coming up, either on the off-chance, or even if you sent them a killer tape. They’re not going to trek to Liverpool, even though its only 200 miles.
Now is the move to London jumping too far ahead in the story?
Apart from the details, it isn’t really. What we’ve talked about carried on for that year (1972-3). It was all pretty much the same. I guess we were only together about 18 months. I don’t know what had happened and whether it was a domestic thing. But I just seem to remember him saying “I’m going down to live with my Dad”. (This was now February or March of 1973.) I’d been down to stay with him in London with his Dad. In actual fact we’d been down to see Brinsley Schwarz playing in London and we’d stayed at his Dad’s apartment.
Now was Elvis married at the time?
No. Not even dating. He said I’m moving down to live with my Dad and I don’t think it was ever mooted, “Do you want to go?” If he’d have, I would have said “Don’t be ridiculous, I’ve got a job. Again, I don’t remember whether he was working or if he’d stayed out of work since leaving school.
What were you doing?
I was working for the city council, in the offices, a full-time day-job. I just can’t recall if he had a job. He may have left school around 17 and went straight onto welfare during that period. And he had no other ties. I had a decent job for an 18-year old. So he said “I’m going down to live with my Dad”, and I said “So we’re going to finish playing” and he said “Suppose we’ll have to”. And he went down to live there and we had a couple of commitments, one of which was probably one of our most major gigs. The ex-bass player for our band became the booking agent for Warwick University and he got us a gig down there which was going to be three month’s after Dec’s move to London. So we arranged that “I’ll see you at Warwick University in three month’s time”. The last time we actually played together was that gig. He traveled from London north and I traveled from Liverpool south. Right in the middle was Warwick University in Coventry where we played our last gig, supporting, although not on the same stage, Steve Harley’s Cockney Rebel, who were still probably unrecorded at that time. And that was the last time we actually played because after that we both went back our separate ways and we were now living 200 miles apart.
Were you always billed as Rusty when you played together?
No. Now that I think about it, one of these agents, or managers said “I want to book you, but Rusty sounds too much like a country band. I want to change your name”. He came up with a new name and even after three months we could never remember the name or how to spell it. He called us Procyon, which is the name of a star somewhere in the sky.
It was horrendous! We humored him and went out under this name because he got us some money and shortly after that when we parted with him or when he didn’t know, we went out as Rusty which was the name I had given to the band before Dec had even joined. We never had any other names as far as I remember.
Now back in Liverpool Elvis was living with his mom?
Yes, the whole time. After he moved to London he came back engaged to Mary. She by coincidence came up to do college in Liverpool, probably within a year of him moving down there. It was like “I’m coming up there, I’m bringing my fiancé, she’s staying up here to go to college and I’m going back down to play with Flip City.” (Or the D.P. Costello thing, I’m not sure how that all went). Then she moved back and Matthew was born.
When he moved to London did you stay in touch at all?
A little bit. A couple of trips up here (Liverpool). I got a letter or a call saying “I’m gonna get a deal, Stiff are putting out a single”. Shortly after that I got the single sent to me along with a three-page letter which I’ve still got saying “Here’s the single (“Less Than Zero”) I think it’s going to be reviewed in Melody Maker this week”. I bought the magazine and he got a killer review, “Single of the Week”, the whole bit. He was to phone me a few days after that and said “Meet me at my mother’s at 6:00. Did you see the review in the music press of my record?” He had My Aim Is True with him which was possibly due in the next few weeks and he came up and played the album for me. The most impressive thing for me was the fact that my all time favorite band, Clover, had been his backing band. They are still to this day my favorite band of all time. It wasn’t like “Wow, Nick Lowe is producing you?” it was like “You played with Clover, Dec?” Even now that is still more of a big deal than the fact that he’s been on the same stage with Bruce and Neil. We used to do some Clover songs. That’s another weird twist.
What was your reaction to the record? Did it sound strange to you or was it like you would have expected? Were you able to hear it sight unseen without the punk/new wave image behind it?
It sounded manufactured. It sounded created. It really did, the whole image. The first time I heard anything recorded was off the single which had a picture sleeve. I looked at this geeky guy and said “Where’d the glasses come from; where’d the hair come from; where’d the bow-legs or knock-kneed-look come from?” The My Aim Is True cover had been the same and there had been a picture in the press. So, no, one didn’t come without the other, it suddenly came as a package. I immediately thought “this is a whole package deal. They’ve taken what were potentially some very good songs. They’ve looked at the market at the time, this is 1977 and The Pistols and The Clash are all breaking. We’ve got a guy here who could either be Stephen Stills and die, or adapt him enough to be heard. Now whether or not that was his intention when he wrote the songs and he went in with his little folkie, quite melodic songs and Nick Lowe punked them or when he was in London and picked up the punk thing I have absolutely no idea. There was lyrical bite to his songs and I don’t know anything about the Flip City days. There’s three years of him being in Flip City and listening to music and seeing bands in London, he may have acquired a punk bite to his music. So whether he went in with “I’m Not Angry” and “Red Shoes” and all that and it sounded just like it did on record or whether Nick Lowe made them sound that way, I will never know.
I always thought that the whole image was a bit tongue-in-cheek myself.
I think so. There used to be a program in England very similar to your Gong Show, maybe that’s a bad example, and it was called Star Is Born or something like that. They used to take guys like me, put them on TV and if you won by audience votes and letters, you’d get another show and you could become a major star by doing these talent show things. The opening credits for the show was this guy playing in the street and then he went through this conveyer belt system….. hat goes on, glitter, new guitar and in the end comes out this shining star, all animated. When I saw Dec’s picture that’s immediately what I thought of. They’d taken this hefty, long-haired hippie, with Easy Rider-type glasses and thought;” I’m sorry we need a name, an image and a mystique. This is the punk era and that’s what you’re gonna do or you’re not gonna do it at all”. I would imagine because he and I thought such alike he’d have gone: “You cannot be serious. I’m not gonna do that. I wanna go in a lumberjack shirt, hiking boots and blue jeans”. But he must have gone with it either by choice or because he knew that he was onto something. Either way it worked.
In retrospect if you put that album in perspective with some of the other things you mentioned like The Clash and The Pistols, it’s relatively tame. But the packaging seemed to make it something it really wasn’t. I mean “Red Shoes” could have come off a Byrds’ record.
Of course it could. DJ’s always refer to him being at the peak of the punk movement. I never think of him being punk. It was just on the crest of the punk era.
Remember, it got us out of disco. Punk was really a breath of fresh air.
It was. I hated it at the time but looking back there were some great songs. There was no wonder that he did so well because it was so classy and above the rest of The Buzzcocks and people like that. An aside on that one, another interesting story. The record had come out and had gotten the rave reviews and he started to play a few gigs. A couple of the music papers had run articles on “Who is this Elvis Costello?” “How come this guy’s appeared from nowhere, how old is he, what’s his real name, where did he come from, where did he live, what’s his background?” A lot of this stuff was coming out in several of the music papers. There was a small local magazine, similar to yours, on what is happening in Liverpool, called Juice, and it had all the gossip on bands and who was playing where. They said “Hey Allan. We’re gonna run a story on the Costello-myth”. Now they knew a lot of it and said “Why don’t you give us the full story and we’ll print it.” And I said “Let me talk to Stiff about this.” I don’t know what made me think of this, there’s something weird about this. So I phoned Stiff. I got the phone number out of the book. I had no way of getting in contact with Declan or anybody. I told them who I was, spoke to some secretary and I said here’s the story “I’m Allan Mayes, I played with Elvis Costello for a few years. The local press want me to do some revelation about all these questions that the majors can’t get. What do you think?” They said we’ll get back to you. A few days later, Declan phone me and he said “I’ve spoken to Jake” and this is a quote: “If anything like that goes in print, legs will be broken”. We laugh now. This is kind of tongue-in-cheek really and I wasn’t thinking of my legs but the guys who were going to be printing it! Again this is the mood of the 1977-era, but that’s how protective they were at that time.
The reaction Jake Riviera gave to you was very similar to the attitude he had throughout his career with Elvis. “We don’t want you to help us”.
I have met him I guess. After the record had come out and he had two hit singles, he came to Liverpool and played Eric’s, which then was equivalent to the Cavern in the 60’s. It was the punk venue. The Pistols, The Clash, they all played there. I went to the sound check. Now whether he phoned me or I phoned him I don’t know. Somehow or other he said: “Come to the sound check I’m there at two in the afternoon”. I went and I took some photographs and saw the sound check. I was working that night, playing elsewhere in town, so we parted at like four or five o’clock and he went and did a radio interview. Then probably a year or two later he came and played in Southport which was where I lived, which is about 15 miles out of Liverpool. And again how we got into touch I’ll never know but I went to the sound check again. I was playing again myself that night and I met up with him at the hotel afterwards. I guess I met Jake that night. But just how we got in touch I can’t remember. I certainly didn’t hang out at the back stage but I don’t remember having a phone number. And he certainly’s not made any effort over the years to return any efforts I made. In fact, the only effort I’ve ever made was when he played Austin (in 1987). That’s how I got in touch with George (Gimarc). George knew about me from the phone call I made. He’s the DJ I spoke to when Costello was in town: “Costello’s in town tomorrow, if he comes in the studio, give him my number”. He made a note of my address in England, Costello didn’t get in touch, and I forgot the whole incident until I got this letter from George right out of nowhere saying can you please let me have any information you have as I’m writing this book. We spoke on the phone, I sent him the stuff and the book duly came out and as we said it was a great job. I was very proud and very pleased at long last to have my name in print.
I spoke to Elvis about you in 1989. He was very keen to hear about you and literally stopped dead in his tracks when I mentioned your name. He was on his way out the door and must have stayed another 30 minutes to talk about his work with you. I wish I had a tape recorder. He’s also sure to read this in the magazine.
Great, you know I got no feedback from the Q thing (see BB#4). As much as I’ve had all this playing and moving countries and all that, my mind has not been as cluttered by events as his probably has from a playing point of view. So it’d be interesting to see how much of it that I know very clearly that he’ll even remember. There were so many things going through our minds as 18-year olds as you can imagine.
You mentioned that you too were once keen on superstardom. Do you regret not making the move to London? What would have happened if you would have gone?
Probably we’d have gone down there and I’d have starved to death and given up or we’d have ending up fighting or squabbling, which is not something we did an awful lot of. I’d like to think that I probably made the right decision. But who knows, we could of been Difford & Tilbrok within six months or I could have gotten the record deal. It’s a million if’s and hypotheticals. I suspect that things would have panned out pretty much the same way that they did. He felt so strongly about his material which was quite rightly so. I assume he knew it was as good as I thought it was. Even the “airy-fairy” stuff of the early ‘70’s. There was obviously an unbelievable talent.
So the results of his career don’t surprise you at all?
No, the only thing that surprises me is that somebody with that kind of talent got picked up. Because so many people with that kind of talent stay in their bedrooms playing. I think it’s one of the amazing things of rock & roll that, there’s at least one talent out there that somebody signed, got successful and critically acclaimed for the talent that he had. There’s another interesting thing that’s always preyed on my mind. At the time we were playing these poetry readings, folk clubs and song writers’ clubs, there were three of us; Dec, me and a third guy, an acoustic guitar song writer called Terry Doyle. Now both of them blew me away as song writers with originality and style. At the time the Declan went to London, I took the safe path and thought; I could go and make guaranteed money singing John Denver songs. Declan went for the angle “all or nothing-I’ll go and I’ll starve but I’ll at least have had a shot”, and the other guy did the same: “I’m gonna go for it, I’m gonna move to London”. Costello succeeded, the other guy failed and within a year was giving up playing completely and went back to collecting trash or whatever it was he did. And I chugged along the middle-of-the-road and made a living out of playing. I’ve done OK out of it and I’ve never starved. So the three of us were identical, we were all singer-songwriters, eyes set on stardom, two took the chance, one succeeded, one didn’t take the chance and chugged along. Now, all three of us could have made it big or all three of us could have failed. Costello could have been the one who stayed at Elizabeth Arden, but he got the break. The guy who was just as talented didn’t and he ended up by quitting playing in a few years. So I probably think I did the right move because I don’t think I have the talent to do what he does. I think I have the talent to make a record as good as anything Michael Bolton has made by doctoring covers. But as a song writer I don’t think I would have ever come close to the talent that he had. I’ve always thought that I could have been a male Linda Ronstadt or an Ian Matthews. I think that there’s a couple of really good records in me of cover versions. But I ain’t gonna tell anybody I could write great songs because I can’t. I was crap at it.
That’s not an acquired talent. It’s perhaps something you’re born with.
I think so and Declan was born with it.
One thing I remember Elvis saying about you was that when you were together, you were the good-looking one.
Yeah, well he used to dress kind of geeky. He used to wear these big plaid jackets and big red shoes. He used to call them “clown clothes”. He didn’t exactly go out of his way to be rock & roll. Then again, when I look at the pictures of me at the time I look like the nerd of the century. We both did. We were no prize!
When was the last time that the two of you met?
It would have been that occasion in Southport which would be in 1980.
Now have you followed his career much?
Not in detail, but I know the surface of everything that happens. I’ve seen the mood swings, the album swings, the visual swings. I’ve seen and heard interviews and we talk so alike. I’ve listened to him speak and even now after all these years, he and I sound alike. Our accents, our vocal tones, the way we speak sounds so alike. I saw a televised interview that I did recently for a little TV station in Victoria, Texas. I thought: “I’m so like Costello”. We are very similar individuals really. Now you’ve seen him more recently so you may not think so. I only know what I see on TV and what I remember. On the same line, he and I play the same guitar style. It took someone else to point this out to me, which as far as I know, we are the only two in the world who do this. We play our bar chords with the little finger above the ring finger. Our right handed style is very similar. We have a similar stance with our hands. Neither of us taught the other. I guess we just both picked it up at a time when we were both very susceptible to learning stuff and what you learned at 17 as a guitar player you’re stuck with for life.
How about his diverse musical styles? Have you heard his classical record, The Juliet Letters, for example? Does this surprise you? Did he have any appreciation for this form of music back then?
I don’t remember. There was music in the family from his father, but I think it went back a generation before that. There were no classical influences that I ever saw. I think all that, including his Hank Williams-George Jones thing, is something he found later when he had time to explore. I suspect, knowing him, he’d be in Nashville and go out in a bar one night and hear a George Jones’ song and have to go buy all these records and listen to them. He’d get hooked on a trend much the same way Neil Young does. I think it must just get boring. If you’re going to churn out and be as prolific as he and Neil are, it’s like “Let’s go and do a Beach Boy’s album” as he calls Armed Forces the “Abba-album”. I know even then as kids he could write a song to suit any writer. He’d say “I think I’ll write a David Crosby-song”. I can still hear that song in my head. It was called “For Miles I See”, with that Crosby chord progression. He was the same with anybody, like “I need a Robbie Robertson song” and the song would appear. The Brinsley songs, the Nick Lowe songs, the Beatles songs, he’d just throw them together. It was staggering.
Note: We then proceeded to look through Alan’s scrapbook together.
This is the original manuscript (in Dec’s handwriting) of “Maureen and Dan”. This is one of the rewrites here and it was actually called “The Show Must Go On”. I remember Dec trying to decide whether it should be that or “Must the Show Go On”. Here’s another in his handwriting, “Dull Echoes”. These look very much like neat copies that he’d given to me for us to learn. I have another original somewhere that is written on computer paper.
Now when you sang things like I see here, “Everybody’s Talking” or “Woodstock”, did you sing in harmony together?
Yes, very much so, and we played acoustic guitars. Very strangely, I think we sounded sort of like “Nirvana Unplugged”. I was listening to that album and I started thinking that. It’s probably because they have these really cheap pickups on their guitars.
What do you remember about him writing songs? How would they come about?
I’d turn up and he’d say “I got a new song”. He’d play it for me and then dictate it to me and I’d write it out myself or he’d write out the words for me. Then he played it through three or four times while I played along. I’d sit and follow along and all of a sudden I’d be singing in on the choruses. We’re talking about three chord wonders! Every song was three chords so they were easy to play.
Then you’d mix the new songs in your sets with the covers. How’d that stuff go over?
I don’t think people could tell the difference between the covers because the covers were all obscure anyway. So “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” by Neil Young and “Sunflower Lancers” by Declan MacManus made no difference because it was all new to them. It didn’t matter as much then as it would nowadays. Everybody out there was playing originals.
Note: Looking through the scrapbook we look at a list of all the Rusty gigs and also stumble across some song lyrics written on computer paper.
Some nights I played solo. You know, I’ve got a feeling that maybe he was working. Maybe he did get a job (the computer paper?). I played solo some nights so maybe he worked shifts? But I don’t remember him ever going to work and I don’t remember there being an Elizabeth Arden in Liverpool. I don’t remember him being on the welfare like I said. I knew that didn’t sit right and the period from leaving school and going to London was too big a gap. He may of had a job in some kind of computer place.
What happened to your musical career after Rusty split?
Around about spring of 1973, after he had moved to London, I entered the Melody Maker folk rock contest and I won my heat in the soloist-songwriter category. Then Dec sent me a telegram (in April 1973) because in the same issue as they had the winners, Flip City or D.P. Costello must have had an ad. He wrote “Rusty truckers strike again. Melody Maker monopoly! Congrats, Dec.”
We split and I played solo all through 1973. Then one of the bands who Declan and I had played with at the folk club contacted me knowing that I was on my own now. They said “Your mate’s gone. Come and play with us. We’ll jam man!” I went and met these guys, fired a few people, took over the whole band, started doing my own songs and just took over the leadership of this whole band, keeping the nucleus. We changed the name and became a rock band called Restless, which was a Jefferson Airplane-type band. We played colleges and rock clubs. I said to the band “Look, when we’re all on holiday from our jobs this summer, why don’t we go down to London, phone all the major rock venues, and say we’re from Liverpool and we want to come down and play.” Some of them said “Yeah, we’ll pay you $50 or whatever.” So we went down and played July 10, 1974 at the Kensington, the same week as Flip City. Dec must have lived around there and he actually came on that night we were playing.
I see that in Liverpool, Restless actually played the Cavern Club, a rather famous place.
Yes, where we played was actually the new Cavern which was across the street. Declan and I went to the old Cavern to see Brinsley Schwarz on the famous “Beatles-stage” you see in all the old footage. That was where we first saw Brinsley Schwarz play.
Do you know if he met Nick Lowe back then?
We would have all met, only as 17-year old groupies. Of course, a band like Brinsley Schwarz, out of town, were impressed that anybody knew their songs and would talk to them. We probably went to see them two or three more times, whenever they came up there. They wouldn’t have known our names but they probably remembered those two guys who pestered us every time we’re here.
Why don’t you give us a short background as to where your musical career went after the band you mentioned, Restless.
Restless went through the mid-seventies. Punk came along and I decide to go solo. I knew that by playing little bistros, cafes and bars, people would give me $15 a night in 1977 by standing in the corner singing “Fire and Rain”. In 1977, despite punk, it was more disco-orientated because at that time in England, everybody was going out. The disco- boom had hit to a degree that everyone went to a bar and then they went disco-dancing. So all of a sudden all the bars, clubs and cafes had plenty of money and clientele so I was working seven nights a week. I’d sit in a corner and sing James Taylor songs and/or little punk songs like “Turning Japanese” and things like that. I was in very big demand because I was self-contained, compact, low-volume, could fit in any corner and played nice big cover versions with a drum machine. So around that time I was able to no longer to work a day job as I was making enough money by all this work. I went on the road, got a few good breaks into television, and got more money, about $100 a night.
What kind of television?
National talent shows which lead to one or two major national variety-type shows. Late night Letterman-type things where I’d do my own songs.
Then how did the Chelsea Street Pub thing come along?
I found an ad saying “American-based company looking for English-entertainers”. I wrote to the guy, he wrote back and I sent a tape. After two or three tapes he said “I’m never gonna hear anybody as good as you no matter how far I look. You play the right songs, in the right style and you’ve got a killer voice. How would you like to come play for us?” So in 1983-84, I came over here and did four or five years on the road right across the South, from Florida to Arizona playing 100% cover versions. Come 1988, I’d had enough of it and decided I didn’t really want to play at all. I grew to loathe and despise the whole prospect of standing on a stage anywhere. So I quit completely, went back to England, got a regular job and within six months was playing again but with a keyboard partner. All of a sudden it was much more fun because somebody else was with me again. It felt great not only to have someone with me, but someone who was good. He was a good song writer, we wrote and performed a few musicals and after eight years I thought if I’m gonna play this much I might as well go back and play in Texas again. So that brings us right around to January of 1996 when I started a whole new Chelsea Street career.
One last question, looking back how do you feel about his success?
I’ve been through every type of emotion over this whole thing over the years. It’s been over 20 years now. I’ve been through the jealousy thing. Everything that’s happened to him I would have killed for. The only saving grace that’s really kept me sane about the whole thing, without me getting really manic about it, is that he’s so good. If he’d been really shit and got all those breaks, then I’d probably been pissed off forever. The way I do now about say George Michael. But in Dec’s case it was so inevitable because he was so good. I can’t really resent the fact that talent came through. If you were talking to George Michael’s partner you’d be talking to a much more bitter and twisted man. I’d never ever forget the intensity when he used to show me those songs. If everything else is hazy, it’s the way out of normal conversation he’d say “Here’s a new song Allan.”, click into a three or four minute song, finish the song with his eyes bulging and a wild look in his eye, then switch straight off again and say “I wonder what’s on TV tonight?”.
This has been fun Allan. You seem very excited and proud of all this.
I’m proud of it all really.
Rusty’s Final Gig (paid £17)
June 24, 1973
Tell Me Why (Neil Young)
Sleeper At The Wheel (MacManus)
Separate Ways (Mayes)
Wooden Ships (Crosby-Stills) Crosby Stills & Nash
Your Eyes (Malcom Morley) Help Yourself
Just My Way (standard) Brinsley Schwarz
I’m Ahead If I Can’t Quit While I’m Behind (Jim Ford) Brinsley Schwarz
Country Girl (Lowe) Brinsley Schwarz
Up On Cripple Creek (Robertson) The Band
Sunflower Lancers (MacManus)
Ju Ju Man (Jim Ford) Brinsley Schwarz
Happy Together (Bonner-Gordon) The Turtles
Willie and the Hand Jive (Johnny Otis)
Hemlock Tree (Mayes/Brown)
Mighty Quinn (Dylan) Manfred Mann
You Ain’t Going Nowhere(Dylan) The Byrds
Old Man (Neil Young)
Heart Of Gold (Neil Young)
Nightingale (Lowe) Brinsley Schwarz
Unknown Number (Lowe) Brinsley Schwarz
Old Kentucky Home (Randy Newman)
Dance, Dance, Dance (Neil Young)
Dead Skunk (Loudon Wainwright III)
Warm House (MacManus)
The Weight (Robertson) The Band
Last Time I Was Fooled (Lowe) Brinsley Schwarz
Nervous On the Road (Brinsley Schwarz)
Cotton Fields (Leadbelly)
Wouldn’t You Agree (Mayes)
I’m The Prophet (Mayes)
Gasoline Alley (Stewart-Wood) Rod Stewart
MacManus Original Songs with Rusty
Sleeper at the Wheel
Two Days Rain
Love Is Like Everything
Maureen and Dan
For Miles I See