Earl Zinger, Galliano, Two Banks of Four and now William Adamson – you’d be forgiven for thinking these musical personas are all separate entities but in fact they are united by (the real) Rob Gallagher.
Since the late eighties, this musician and audio experimenter has been an industrious player in UK music’s more leftfield sounds. Although one to never steal the limelight, he played an important role in the rise of acid jazz and more leftfield poetic experiments while going on to become a long-time musical cohort of DJ Gilles Peterson.
William Adamson is the latest musical persona Rob has seen fit to adopt. His new album – Under an East Coast Moon – is a self-proclaimed ‘topographical travelogue’ with this collection of songs telling half-stories from the mist of the Suffolk countryside. The album is laden with concept as the songs are also wrapped up in academic WG Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn which also takes in a walking tour of the region. M interviewed Rob to in a bid to unpick his new record’s numerous concepts and find out whether he still gets on with Gilles Peterson after all these years…
Can you remember the record that made you want to get into music?
It was probably wasn’t a record. But I did have a feeling that Marc Bolan was cool on Lift off with Ayesha. That was 1970s after-school TV and I felt I could do that. Or at least something like that. Osmosis helped me gather things that seemed relevant but unfortunately didn’t include proficiency on a musical instrument or learning how a compressor worked.
Are you classically trained?
I managed to resist any form of musical education although I did once talk to [musical collaborator] Tom Herbert about Fibonacci and Golden Ratio theory.
I write on different instruments for different projects. For Under an East Coast Moon it was guitar but for Two Banks Of Four it was mainly keyboards.
I can write tunes and play the tunes I write but I wouldn’t say I can play an instrument in the way a trained musician can. Electronics and the computer have just given me areas to explore.
You’ve worked in numerous guises over the years. Which persona has been the most enjoyable/creatively satisfying?
Each one has seemed important at the time and there’s been a lot of creative movement in each one. I enjoyed ‘Sideshow Bob’ when I was working with ‘The Electric Circus Sideshow’ in Berlin. And also as General Rubbish who had a beef with Zinger for a while.
However, they can also all lead to a certain dissatisfaction by confusing the narrative about what you’re trying to do or the authenticity of it.
It sometimes makes writing for others or for Two Banks of Four less personal and therefore easier. But when the South Bank Show air their retrospective after my demise, I’m hoping for some sort of clarity.
Could you explain this new project as William Adamson? The new record sounds heavy in concept.
The Two Banks of Four studio has always been in the region. We mixed the second and third albums there and various other projects so it felt quite familiar.
Then we got an arts commission and an impetus to do a project around the east of the UK.
We decided to give ourselves an exact part of land on the eastern shoreline in the county of Suffolk. Topography has always provided inspiration on the other albums so we were working in a vein we enjoyed. After researching histories and having listened to tales both tall and short, we ended up with 15 or so bits of work that we recorded.
After an initial session, we came back home and the guitarist picked up an old paper to read on the way back. It was an advert for a festival about the works of WG Sebald. Which is all so Sebaldian in itself that I now feel I can’t bore you with all the other odd nueral highways that opened up into other connections.
You’ve been a songwriter many years – how do you stay inspired when it comes to writing?
I always thought the idea of meeting Lamont Dozier and the Holland brothers – getting a coffee, going into a room and writing a song – sounded tremendous.
So I just like the actual act of writing and creating and in that way I don’t have a problem with motivation to write. But I could turn out a load of rubbish. That’s when you need people around you editing and feeding you inspiration.
Are you still firm musical accomplices with Gilles Peterson? The new album is coming out on his Brownswood label.
I’m in his bad books at the moment. I drove back from Brighton last night after he was doing a gig down there. I was fine up to the M25 but then we started chatting too strong and I’m not sure how but the next thing we knew, we saw a sign that said ‘Welcome to Folkestone’.
4.30 am and we needed to get back to N16. We made it by 5.30am so it wasn’t a catastrophe. Surprisingly he didn’t see it like that.
How has your songwriting evolved?
The more I do, the less I try to be constrained by any notion of it. I was a middle eight nazi at one stage and everything had to have one.
With using lyrics as the spark at other times, I had a lot of music where the verse was more important and the chorus a way to get back in to another verse.
So I suppose I recognise the different phases of trying to craft different things. I think I needed to be much more aware of sound at other times, as that generates the atmosphere and then mood of the work. A drone can be as emotive as an anthemic chorus. So for me I can be helped or hindered by the different aspects of ‘songwriting’. I can confirm that just because you do it a lot, doesn’t mean you get any better at it.
Are you going to be performing this new project live?
Performing it live has been one of the most exciting parts of the project. Hugh Jones who builds and plays his own electronic instruments, has my vocal and guitar feed and samples them. He creates loops, cuts them up and generally creates music on stage. We have played two gigs like that. Then another gig with a double bass player and a session with a bango player. It’s quite diverse at the moment.
Have you any tips for aspiring songwriters/musicians?
I can’t wait to see what you do…