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Interview: Wally on new album Montpellier

SITTING in Weetons on a bright winter's day basking in the glow of Wally's first new album in four decades, called Montpellier, the view is looking good for Roy Webber.

Not only is he enjoying the caf's lovely vista across the hometown which continues to inspire the music of Harrogate's most famous rock band, he also appears slightly stunned at what Wally have managed to pull off since they reformed last year.

One sell-out reunion show at the Royal Hall, another to follow in two months' time and now the new album, the first in 36 years.

For a legendary band marked by tragedy as well as triumph, it's an amazing story whose twists and turns show no sign of settling into a predictable pattern anytime soon.

If the band's existence is a miracle of chance and time, the new recordings are a gamble whose outcome was far from guaranteed.

Montpellier, like their last album, Valley Gardens co-produced by Bob Harris and released by Atlantic Records in 1975, is named after the town where half the band still live.

With the other half scattered across the globe, however, (keyboardist Nick Glennie-Smith, for example, is a resident of LA where he has won awards for his soundtracks to big Hollywood movies sich as The Rock, The Man in the Iron Mask and We Were Soldiers), uncertainty as well as excitement was in the air as Webber and the rest of Wally gathered in Soundworks Studios in Leeds to start the new sessions.

"I was a bit worried in advance. You never knew if the chemistry would still be there. But it felt good in the studio together. We really gelled."

New songs such as She Said, co-written by Webber and new band member and producer Will Jackson, developed from scratch in the studio.

Unreleased songs from the 1970s such as Sailor and Sister Moon were entirely revised.

"There had to be some compromises but there's some great playing from all the guys. Paul Middleton's vocals on Human were done in one take and are amazing, full of emotion. Roger Narraway's drumming on Giving is what welds the song together but until we reformed he hadn't even picked up a drumstick for 17 years. Pete Sage's fiddle is vital to the Wally sound. Everyone truly excelled themselves.”

The results, which add some impressively modern rock sounds to Wally’s uniquely country-esque and folk-influenced blend of prog rock, are already winning the band new fans well outside Harrogate.

The guest book on the band’s website has messages from Brooklyn in the USA and, as well as those closer to home in the UK.

The new album serves to remind everyone of the enduring spirit of two Wally members who couldn’t join the sessions - lead guitarist Pete Cosker, a victim of drugs in 1990 and original keyboard player Paul Gerrett.

It was the death of Gerrett in Thailand of a heart attack in 2008 which inspired last year’s triumphant show at the Royal Hall.

This year’s reunion is taking place partly to raise money to pay for a very Harrogate tribute in memory of both men.

“The idea is to get a bench for Paul and Pete on The Stray at West Park, “ said Webber, pointing to the glorious, green expanse facing the caf in a view which can‘t have changed much since the days in the 1970s when as young men the band enjoyed their time in the spotlight.

The latest show at the Royal Hall promises not only the full line-up again, including recent recruits Will Jackson and Frank Mizen, but also a guest appearance by fellow local singer Rob Reynolds.

BBC music broadcasting legend Bob Harris is also set to repeat his role as MC for an event which Webber says will be even bigger and better.

The exciting news for Wally fans is that the group intend to play their entire catalogue in an epic two-and-a-half-hour set with spectacular visuals beamed on back projection.

And if this one should go just as well, what next?

“It’s not about making a profit, we’re doing it because we love it and because our fans love it, too. If this show is a success we are ready and willing to carry on. It’s great that the world is waking up to Wally but the band belongs to Harrogate.”

graham.chalmers@ypn.co.uk

l Montpellier by Wally is on sale at both Rock Steady Music and The Blues Bar in Harrogate and www.wallymusic.co.uk

l For tickets for the Royal Hall show on Saturday, April 17, telephone the HIC/Royal Hall box office on 0845 130 8840 or visit www.wallymusic.co.uk

 
 
 

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