Newsoundwales has been a supporter of Al Lewis since our early days and this year we have joint venture with Al when he returns to St John’s Church for his Al Lewis & Friends Christmas Show. We met up with Al to find out more about his recent work and plans for the future.
In 2013 you played some gigs with Jools Holland. How did that come about?
It happened because I was on the Radio 2 playlist. He has a show on radio 2 and his producers heard my cd and liked it and then passed it on to his management who then got in touch with mine and asked if I was interested in doing some live dates. You don’t get the chance to play the sorts of venues or with someone like Jools Holland everyday so it was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. Hopefully one day I’ll be playing them myself – touch wood. I was pleasantly surprised by the musical knowledge of his fan base I was slightly worried that he is more big band playing standards that they might not be interested in a guy with a guitar performing singer song writer stuff. On the contrary they really listened and were appreciative of the music. I made a lot of new fans. The culmination in the Royal Albert Hall was definitely one of the best nights of my life and one I’ll never forget. I was very grateful for Jools giving me that opportunity.
How different was it performing to thousands of people rather than hundreds?
You can’t expect the type of interaction you get in a normal gig as you’re already about 100 metres away from the first person because of the size of the stage. You have to approach it slightly differently and kind of assume the audience is with you and carry on and almost steam roller through the set. In some ways it’s a bit harder if you’re an acoustic act filling that space. I really enjoyed it and hopefully I’ll get the chance to do it again.
Last year you released a Christmas single. What made you decide to do that?
It was Dylan Thomas that prompted me to write it rather than the Christmas angle. I heard about the centenary celebration this year and I thought it would be interesting to take his work and make a song out of it. I had a Christmas song in Welsh I was really proud of and I wanted it to be heard by a bigger audience. I kind of meshed the 2 and hoped it would work. I’d grown up with my mum reading me “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and then I thought why not try working with that one. There were so many poems to choose from so when I thought of that it all made sense. I was trying to pay homage rather than imitate or compete with his words. It was more a case of this is what I think of what he was saying.
The video for the single was filmed in Swansea. What was the idea behind that?
It was made by a good friend of mine from university Ben Williams who is a freelance director. He came up with the idea having heard the song and I wanted it to be linked to Dylan Thomas so we filmed it at his child hood home in Swansea. I’m really pleased with how it came out.
Last year you played an ‘Al Lewis & Friends’ Christmas concert at St John’s Church in Canton. What was the thinking behind that?
In music today there can be a lot of competition and that’s not how I’ve felt about music. The music I love comes from an era when it was all about collaboration and helping each other out and playing on each other’s records, playing together at gigs. So I just thought if I was going to a gig who would I like to watch alongside Al Lewis. I think it lends itself to a lovely evening of music where everyone felt relaxed and there wasn’t a feeling of trying to impress someone or being on edge. You feel relaxed and it brings out the best. I’m really excited we ae doing it again this year.
You seem to like playing in churches. Why is that?
It stems from the intrinsic nature of the architecture in a church. These buildings were created to project sound and because of that you get this amazing natural acoustic and also the way these buildings were created there is a focal point with everyone around it and drawn into that centre piece and it lends itself for concerts.
This year you released a new Welsh language album “Heulwen o Hiraeth”. What prompted a Welsh language album at this stage?
I felt it was long overdue that I did another Welsh language album as the last one was 2011 and it’s something I felt it was time for me to do. We had a big back catalogue of songs so it was good to choose from a large body of work that we were comfortable with and confident about. It was recorded in the first few weeks of January when it’s traditionally very quiet and everyone is getting back to work. We felt we could just get cracking and record. It was released in April so again it was a nice way to approach the spring and start the year. Since the last Welsh language album I’ve made more of a name for myself outside Wales and I’ve had airplay, feedback from non-Welsh language speakers which is great for a minority language. That’s what music should be. You shouldn’t be afraid to listen to something because you won’t understand it.
When you are writing at what stage do you decide whether it’s going to be in English or Welsh?
It partly depends on who I’m with. So if I’m writing with Sarah Howells from Paper Aeroplanes it would be in English and Arwel Lloyd Owen it would be in Welsh. It would always be in Welsh because that’s the language we speak to one another. If I’m at home in London I’m more likely than not to be thinking in English so I’m usually writing in English. If I’m home here visiting family Welsh is more in my psyche so location is a factor in which language comes out.
Last year you released an EP of cover versions. What inspired you to choose the songs?
I wanted to bring these songs back into people’s thoughts. I chose artists who I admired who I felt had something important to say and were/are great songwriters. Most of the people of my generation wouldn’t have heard of hear of these songs and so it’s a chance to give them a new lease of life and give an insight into where my influences lie.
How has the Welsh music scene changed since you were a teenager?
When I was a teenager from 1997-2003 you had perhaps the zenith of Welsh bands in the UK mainstream charts, Catatonia, Stereophonics, SFA, Manics – they showed it was possible to be successful coming from Wales. Sadly since then no-one’s really taken the baton on, but thankfully now I feel a genuine upsurge in new Welsh talent and we’re being talked about again as a hot-bed of great new music and I look forward to seeing how it progresses in the coming years!
Finally what have you got planned for the rest of 2014?
This year I’ve started a new band/duo called Lewis & Leigh with an American singer/songwriter called Alva Leigh and we’ve just released an EP “Night Drives”. I’ll be touring Wales in October and finishing the year with the Al Lewis & Friends Christmas show at St John’s Church.
2nd October – Chattery, Swansea
3rd October – Ty Siamas, Dollgellau
4th October – Blue Sky Café, Bangor
9th October – Spillers, Cardiff in store
10th October – National Library, Aberystwyth
11th October – Druidstone Hotel, Broad Haven
18th October – Union Music Store, Lewes with Lewis & Leigh
21st October – Betsey Trotwood, London. Lewis & Leigh EP launch
13th December – The Al Lewis & Friends Christmas Show with special guests Gwyneth Glyn & PLU at St John’s Church, Canton, Cardiff. Tickets are available at Spillers Records in Cardiff and online at: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/289546