Angelo Palladino’s solo album ‘Blood, Blues and Bad Dreams’, released in 2004, achieves a fusion of folk, blues and rock to a level seldom heard even from the established greats such a Bob Dylan. That his roots are in the blues is unmistakable, from both his natural anguished vocal style, all the way through to the slide guitar work on many of his songs. However the rythmic quality, which his unique finger picking style brings to many of his own compositions, sets him apart, as do his intense yet approachable live performances.
Angelo is a hidden gem of immense songwriting and performance talent, as anyone who has seen him perform will testify. So here I am, in late May, sitting in his kitchen on the outskirts of Leeds, drinking espresso before the interview and I casually ask if he will play me something just to settle us in before the interview.
He picks up a Faith 12 string acoustic and launches into one of his own songs ‘Limehouse’ about a sadly departed friend of his in London. There’s no better way to give you a flavour of this man’s music than to share it with you.
If that doesn’t move you; you are not into the blues!
Before the interview proper begins, I ask Angelo about his guitars. A natural enthusiast, he picks up his current favourite, a Danelectro, and demonstrates the sound. “It’s just a great sound. Used a lot by Jimmy Page and Pete Townsend. It’s called the ‘bow-tie’, for obvious reasons.”
Angelo plays and then talks about his Danelectro guitar and why he likes it. It’s a natural resonator because it is hollow and has two “lipstick” pick-ups and gives a gloriously resonant sound.
So now you have a choice. You can hear the interview here
or you can read on …
Angelo – tell me a bit about your background…… is the name Palladino Italian origin?
Yes. My father was Italian and my mother was a cockney. I was born in the east end of London, in Stepney. We moved into my grandmother’s house – a lot of people did that, in those days it wasn’t unusual – several generations in the same house.And where do you think you got your musical talent from?
I don’t know. Everyone could sing, they could all sing. Everyone had different kinds of musical tastes, so I was always brought up with several different kinds of music around me.
And when did you start to play and perform?
I was playing in pubs around Bethnal Green, around 15.
But you must have picked up a guitar before that?
Well, not really. I would pester my Dad, but he was kind of reticent, in case it was just a passing phase. And they didn’t have a lot of money. But I got my first guitar when I was about 11 and I taught myself to play it.
So, at some point, you must have made a decision – this is the career for me? This is what I like doing?
Yes, I did that once I started playing in pubs – this was what I wanted to do. I’ve always had jobs: music was my work but I used to have jobs – I left school and I used to take the kind of jobs – like labouring on a building site, so that I could have music as my focus point, my real work.
What kind of music would you have been playing back then?
Rock and roll. Back then, you were getting to hear, the Chess label, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters. I used to have an uncle who was a teddy boy, so I used to hear stuff by Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Eddy Cochrane, and so I had that in one ear….. but when I started playing, the Stones had reinvented rhythm and blues but I had been listening to the originals anyway. Early Stax. John Peel’s Perfumed Garden– all kinds of strange stuff. You tend to absorb all sorts of influences. As a musician, you have to have your ears open and I was listening to all sorts of things – and I wanted to investigate – where did that come from?
When did you start to write your own songs?
That came later. I was always mucking around with other peoples songs. About 30 years ago, maybe earlier. I was tired of doing covers. I got to the point where, whatever band I was in, I thought why don’t we try and write some songs? But the lads I was with were not too keen on that. They said it all sounds the same, so why bother?
I liked Led Zeppelin – but I wasn’t that keen on progressive rock. I thought they took ages to say nothing a lot of the time. That’s how it came across to me anyway. I was more Creedence Clearwater Revival than Yes! It still strikes that chord with me, it’s still the kind of music I like.
So who are your heroes, musically?
Who do I like, best of all? I’d have to say: Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, early Elvis, Buddy Holly, Keith Richard, Chuck Berry, Steve Cropper, Etta James, Sister Rosetta Thorpe, Memphis Minnie… there’s so many it’s hard to pick them out.
Did you ever meet or play with any of your great musician heroes?
No and no. It’s a shame really. I have supported Squeeze, Cheryl Crow, Sting, Frank Zappa’s boys. We toured with Steeleye Span, people like that.
You spent time in the States?
Yes, that’s when my wife Alice and I had a band called The Palladinos. We had an album called Travelling Dark. One track was used in a film called Leaving Las Vegas – the one that won Nicholas Cage an Oscar. When he’s in the bar it comes out over the radio. It’s called ‘I won’t be going south for a while’.There was another song called ‘Boomtown’ that’s on an Elizabeth Hurley & Joss Ackland film. And there’s another one that’s called ‘In this Place Here’. It’s on a really weird, cult film.
We went to the USA a few times and I went to Nashville a few times because Miles Copeland was in charge of the label. And he put me in with different song-writers. He had a kind of song-writing school, bringing different song-writers together from different areas in the south of France. It was great actually and I got to write with different people there.
So tell me a little bit about the process of writing. Do you prefer to do it alone, or collaboratively?
Alone. ……… I sometimes try to put myself in a position where I come up with a title. For example, ‘The Devil, the Money, and the Gun’ [from the Blood, Blues and Bad Dreams album]. That song took me 18 months. It started off as a card game and then became a search for a missing musical instrument – but I kept tearing it up and thinking this doesn’t work like this. And then I got the idea from a Truman Capote book called ‘In Cold Blood’ – it’s almost a journalistic thing that he wrote, based on a true story, a killing. In it, these two men, who are completely on the edges of society meet and create this other character. And I thought, I’ll do it like that! He’ll go into this place and there will be this other person there and they’ve both been outside the law and they come together and they decide to do this bank job – and that’s how the song came about.
It’s brilliant. It’s moving, it’s evocative. During that 18 months while you were thinking about the storyline, did you have chords starting to form in your head?
I had the title, I was mucking around on the guitar. I dropped the two E strings so I had a double drop-D tuning and I came up with this riff one day and I thought that’s it – that’s the riff to this song. So you’re going along, singing any kind of rubbish until you come up with the words. But I had these chords and this sound in my head.
You’ve fronted several different bands. Can you tell me a bit about them and what kind of music you played?
Yes, Alice and I had a band called The Barflies. And we were playing in several London venues. We were doing our own take on things and our own songs in a pretty urban, London-rush kind of rhythm and blues. It was a very good band, we had some good write-ups then. We did some very good things. We did this biker’s festival in Folkestone – there must have been 30,000 bikers there. It was the custom bike show in 1985. It was on the same day as Live-Aid. It was like a red Indian village. If the bikers ever want me to play, I’m there. They were gentlemen, to a man.
At other times you have played folk and jazz, am I right?
I’ve played in folk clubs, but didn’t go down too well, really, I must admit. There seemed to be a mindset thing that I couldn’t understand. To me, ‘Pinball Wizard’ is a folk song. It relates to a time and a thing that was happening.…. I don’t want to sing songs about something that happened 100 years ago. I don’t want to sing songs about things I don’t fully understand. ‘The Devil, The Money and The Gun’ is a folk song. Maybe my style was a bit too rock and roll!
And you played New Orleans jazz too?
Yes. That was with Get Out Of Jail Free, before The Barflies. Alice was the vocalist. I was the guitarist. We had two girls, a piano player, one tenor sax, one alto sax, a bass player and drums. It had a residency in the Brown Bear, where Marlowe was stabbed!
It was great! I had come away from playing for a while. Alice had encouraged me to get back into playing. We played Fats Waller type of stuff, going up to slightly more modern, Professor Longhair stuff. Yes it was brilliant.
I think you have a very distinctive style, both musically and in your lyrics.
I think there’s something European in it as well. I don’t think it’s American –some people call it Americana, but I don’t think it is. I think a song like ‘Midnight’ is a European type of song, even though it’s written about an American. That is a song that I wrote in one go. I actually wrote that on a plane to America. I wrote the lyrics in one go. It was about Chet Baker, the American jazz player and trumpet player and vocalist. I was a big fan. Chet was always his own worst enemy in lots of ways and I had read about him dying and I suddenly came up with these lyrics.
You get lucky sometimes. Most of the time you end up with loads of bits of paper around your ankles with “That doesn’t work” written on it. But that one, it came out of the pen in one go. It just worked. I think that it’s coverable. I think someone else could do that.
You are performing solo now? What’s the difference? What do you prefer?
Yes, I am. There are pluses and minuses, obviously. The plus side is, when I’m actually playing solo, I can actually take risks. And if I fall, I fall on my own, but I can recover from that. There’s more money, that’s another one!The minuses? Sometimes you want a bigger sound. You kind of have these arrangements in your head, so you’re thinking, I wish I had the drum sound here, I wish I had the bass doing this, but, this might sound strange, but I’m not on my own on stage. I can hear it in my head and I play the guitar in a certain way that I make it sound like a band. I’ve learned to re-create those sounds. So I’m actually playing bass, rhythm and lead.
Have you ever had any formal music lessons?
No. It’s practise. Years ago they had jam sessions – but these were like a competition, it wasn’t like an open-mic night, they were competing, so the ones who were best, those were the guys that gave the performance that night. So you had that, it was a bit like the jazz musician thing. I think writing my own songs helped. I’ve never learned a song from a record. I’ve never been able to do that. That’s a weakness. I can’t do that. If you put me in a room and said, “here’s so and so’s song, learn that note for note”, I couldn’t do it. I’d struggle. But if you said, “Put a solo to that”, I’d be fine. I could do that.
I’m told that you are working on a new album. Is it a solo album?
Will it have musicians? Yes, it will. I’ve stopped work on Broken Hearts Still Beat. I’m concentrating instead on a new album which will have a full set of professional musicians – a stand-up bass, drums, a proper piano and a tenor horn and me on guitar. I have written 12 songs. I’m going to find a studio. The songs are doing my head in now. I’ll probably start it next year, because that gives me time to find all the things I need. I think I’ve got a horn player, Ian Douglas.
He’ll probably be there tonight actually [a gig in Leeds, pictured above]. I’d worked on an arrangement of Billie Holliday’s ‘God Bless The Child’ and he said, “Do you mind if I join in?” It’s in E. He’s an alto sax so that’s a hard key for that instrument. He was brilliant. He was absolutely superb. We hit it off straight away. That worked.
What other future plans have you got?
What recording-wise? Playing-wise? Career-wise? Well, keep on going, I think. The road behind me is much longer than the one ahead, I think, so I’m going to keep going. I’m on this path. The thing is, I’m getting better. It’s a much longer process sometimes, for some people. They once asked this question of Duke Ellington and he said, “I’m beginning to understand what I’m doing.” I think all art forms, you can have this quick flash of natural talent. But there are things where you start to learn things about it. They asked Segovia, “Why do you practise eight a hours a day when he was in his eighties and he said, “Because I’m getting better.”
Angelo can be heard at numerous festivals and blues festivals this summer of 2012. View his website for details of upcoming gigs.