“It’s playing songs to people in a room that continues to be the thing I need in my life”.
Only Child have announced their second featured song from their fourth album due out later this year. I interviewed scouse singer / songwriter Alan O’Hare about the new single,
And The Band Played On, Lockdown Life and the future for Only Child. Congratulations on the new single ‘And The Band Played On’, a guitar led song with punchy list song lyrics. As a songwriter, do you write the music first or combine with lyrics as the process revolves?
Thanks! There’s never a set way and it changes all the time. I used to always start with the lyrics… I’m a writer and always have words in my head, heart and notepads. But, over the last few years as I’ve approached and past 40, I’ve noticed the music often arrives first. A melody will come to me as I’m strumming the guitar and that’s when either the words arrive or I’ll flick through the notebooks.
I feel it’s influenced by Weller and Dylan and in particular Subterranean Homesick Blues. Is this a true reflection, if so, have these artists been an influence throughout your career, or life?
Great shout on Subterranean Homesick Blues! I had Elvis Costello’s
Tokyo Storm Warning in my mind at one point during the recording of the song, and that’s basically a Dylan rewrite so fair enough! Weller is a massive influence as he’s a songwriter who strives to get better, keep working and keep pushing. That his last half a dozen records can stand next to his best work is a constant inspiration. All other artists get better with age, why should musicians be different. Weller and Dylan loom large over all my work. The single is a tribute to the art, or artists that have taught you. Reflecting on these influences, have they added their individual qualities and was there an instant connection to them?
Trust the art not the artist you mean? It varies. If a piece of music or writing touches me deep down, my connection to the artists and the rest of their work can be instant and far-reaching. I’m an ‘all in’ kinda’ fella’… if something moves me, I’ll follow it anywhere.
Within the lyrics, Peterloo, Orgreave, Hillsborough, Toxteth are all mentioned – could you expand on these lyrics and are they close to you heart?
I can’t write about anything that’s not close to my heart. I’m a writer who you’ll find somewhere in all of the work I do. I’m helpless to stand outside my own work I’m afraid. Observational writing is great, but I think you need to find a piece of yourself in what you’re writing about or it’ll remain 2d and flat on the page. My Dad grew up in Toxteth and my Nan lived there when I was growing up, so lots of my formative years in the 1980s were spent there. Brixton I drew the comparison with. Peterloo and Orgreave are places I know more about because of the songs, stories, books and artists who’ve written about them. Once I had the phrase ‘… and the band played on’ and I ran with the idea of thinking about seismic events that we know more of the truth about because of the work of artists in continuing to keep these stories in the present by drawing straight lines from them to things happening now, the rest just came. My wife’s family on her Dad’s side go way back to the Highlands so that found its way in there, too.
How does our city influence you musically or lyrically?
It does even when it doesn’t… if you get me. Liverpool’s cultural footprint is so huge that it’s rare for an artist from here not to be influenced by the place. I try not to let it handcuff me or take me down dead ends though, I’ve seen that happen a lot to Scouse artists. I wrote a song called
Scouse that did ok on the last Only Child album, but it’s not a ‘shouting from the rooftops’ Liverpool song. It’s about immigration and the wonderful and mysterious impacts that can have on a place, shaping accents etc. Musically the city has influenced me massively too, there’s melody in every breath I hear taken around me when I’m walking in Liverpool. The single is from your forthcoming album, due later this year. How has lockdown restricted the process and was there ever a chance it wouldn’t happen?
It stopped it in 2020! We ended up doing an acoustic side project if you like (the
Sound EP, covers of my favourite Liverpool songs) as we couldn’t get everyone together! There was never a chance it wouldn’t happen… but I did have to keep my eye on the prize: the record was mostly written pre-lockdown and we’d started recording lots of it, so anything new that came along that I got excited about, I had to be thinking bigger picture about the work put in to this album and the staying true to the original vision. Is the single an indication of the new album?
It is, yeah. The first single,
Straight Lines, was similar in that it grew into a high energy list song about art and artists. Not every song is about that and there’s light and shade musically on the record too. Every song mentions a person or a place, often both, and has an energy to it. It’s a record that wants to be listened to loudly; there’s guitars, drums, fiddles, horns and organs. Rock ‘n’ soul music I guess. How much have you missed playing live and will it feel like a celebration when you get back out there?
I’ve missed it massively. I played my first gig in over 12 months last week and it was heavenly. I get the feeling people are desperate for live music, so I can’t wait to get back on-stage with the band and give it my all. Every gig we play is a celebration!
Does playing live feel part of the package, in terms of releasing music, and just as important as radio play?
Playing live used to be all that mattered to me. To the detriment of my own musical ‘career’, I always cared more about the gigs than the records. That’s changed with Only Child and I’m really proud of all the records we have made as OC with my mate and guitarist Jon Lawton at Crosstown Studios here in Liverpool. But, deep down, it’s playing songs to people in a room that continues to be the thing I need in my life.
And what next for Alan O’Hare and Only Child?
This album will come out, we’ll play lots of gigs and then crack on with the next one! With the lockdown, I’d say the next album is probably written and I’m keen to try a new way of working/recording to get it out quicker. Watch this space. We’re also planning to celebrate the
tenth anniversary of the band in 2022 – there’s something very special in the works there. In 2021, it feels like something to celebrate: keeping a band together for ten years and releasing music & playing gigs. So we will!
Thank You to Alan O’ Hare
Very Best Wishes