‘We didn’t want any fiddles or sailors on this album’

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Husband and wife folk-rock duo The Rails – James Walbourne and Kami Thompson – are back. Their much-anticipated second album, Other People, is out on September 1.

Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ray Kennedy [Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams], it’s a darker, heavier and more electric record than their critically acclaimed 2014 debut Fair Warning. 

Moving away from the band’s traditional folk roots – it has ‘psychedelic’ tinges and groovy ’60s organ – it’s an album of 10 self-penned songs and isn’t afraid to speak its mind and deal with modern social issues.

The title track is a rallying call against those who are out for themselves, while Brick and Mortar is an angry protest song that laments the death of London – it’s part funeral march, part Kinks. 

The album feels like a record that’s about people who aren’t at ease with the world in which they live…

I took James [guitars, vocals, keyboards] and Kami [vocals and guitar] down the pub to find out more…


Q & A

You recorded the new album in Nashville, at Room & Board Studio, with producer Ray Kennedy, who’s worked with acts including Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. Why did you decide to make the new album in Nashville?

James: It was because Ray was there – I just wanted to work with Ray. Nashville had no bearing or influence on the record in any way.

You haven’t made a ‘Nashville country album,’ have you?

James: It honestly had nothing to do with country – it was cheaper to make the record with Ray in Nashville than to fly him over to the UK. We didn’t see any of Nashville. We got there, we drove to a house where we were staying and then to the studio – and that’s what we did for about a week. It was bloody hard work.

Kami: It was quite stressful – we had a small budget and very little time.

Why did you want to work with Ray Kennedy?

James: We were struggling with whom we were going to get to produce it, as we wanted to do something different, and then he came to mind. One morning, I thought, ‘It would be great if Ray could do it’…

Ray had worked on a 1998 album called Domestic Blues by my friend Bap Kennedy – I spoke to Bap about him – and then Ray Davies also said that I should work with Ray. It all came together. Ray Kennedy is a genius…

And so is Ray Davies…

James: He is! Ray Kennedy had also worked on some of my favourite records, like Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues, which sounds heavy. We wanted to do a heavier record that was less folky. We wanted this album to be more of a rock band approach – more of a psychedelic thing. Maybe ‘psychedelic’ is too much… we wanted a whittled-down approach, with two electric guitars, bass and keyboards. We didn’t want any fiddles on it…

Kami: Or sailors.

James: If you’re in Nashville, you’ve got to watch the fiddle because it then becomes a country fiddle…

There is a pedal steel guitar on the album…

James: Yes – Eric Heyward played on one track.

‘We wanted to do a heavier record that was less folky – more of a rock band approach’

Can you tell me about the musicians you worked with on the new album? They weren’t Nashville guys, were they?

James: It’s funny – I knew we were going to get asked about the Nashville thing, but everyone that was involved – apart from Ray – wasn’t from Nashville. Cody Dickinson was on our first record – he’s the drummer in the North Mississippi Allstars and he lives in Memphis – he’s an old friend, so it was a no-brainer.

Jim Boquist [on bass] is another old friend of mine and he was in the first incarnation of Son Volt – he’s from Minneapolis. He has a punk-rock edge, ‘cos he used to hang out with The Replacements – he’s a good friend of Paul Westerberg’s. We had a different mix of people – from Memphis to Minneapolis is a huge world away and then there was us with the English folk thing…. we wanted to see what it would sound like.

Your first album was recorded in London with Edwyn Collins as producer. How was it working with Ray on this album? How did it compare?

James: It was as bonkers – they’re both as bonkers as each other.

Kami: It was a whole different substrata of bonkers…

James: They’re both in analogue mode – everything’s old and analogue…. This time [in Nashville], there were compressors that were used at MGM for Hank Williams and there were thousands of guitars – it was amazing.

Kami: You couldn’t let your gaze rest on anything for too long, because Ray would say, ‘Are you looking at that compressor? That’s the compressor that The Beatles used…’

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album.

You’ve said that this record is a move away from the more traditional folk sound of your debut, but there’s still a folk feel to some of the tracks, particularly the opening song The Cally and the title track and first single, Other People…

JamesYes – that’s true.

Other People has a pretty, folk-pop melody, but, lyrically it’s quite an angry song, isn’t it?

James: (laughing) I keep hearing that from people – I didn’t mean it to be that angry!

The opening line is, ‘crazy people, money-grabbers, old religions and new regimes, back-stabbers, heart-breakers, psychopaths with evil schemes….’

It sounds to me like a comment on the state of the world – a rallying call against selfish people and those who are just using others to further their own means…

James: It started with me being pissed off about people who should get off their high horse. It’s when you walk down the street…

Kami: It’s that huge lack of social manners.

James: It seems to be everywhere now. It’s about the internet and all the other stuff – it’s this (he points to his mobile phone) all the time…

But the song feels like it’s about bigger issues…

James: It grew into that – it got angrier and angrier as we were writing it. It’s a selfish world… I get the feeling that everyone’s out for themselves – they should care about their fellow man a little more.

Kami: It’s a theme on which you can easily zoom in and out.

It’s got a gorgeous tune, though…

James: You’ve got to be able to whistle it – you can’t give it all away.

‘There’s more of ourselves in this album… It definitely feels darker, but it wasn’t intentional’

It’s lighter than some of the other songs on the album, which I think is a very dark record, lyrically…

James: I guess it is.

It’s darker than the first album…

James: There’s more of ourselves in this album… It definitely feels darker, but it wasn’t intentional.

Kami: I can’t remember the last time either of us wrote a particularly cheerful song.

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I think there are recurring themes on the record – the title track, Late Surrender, Leaving The Land and Brick and Mortar all seem to be songs about people who aren’t at ease with the world in which they live…

Kami: That’s a good way of summing it up.

There’s a line in the song Other People that seems to sum up the whole record for me – ‘we’re all strangers in our own time.’ Have the songs been shaped by current political and social issues?

Kami: Yes – absolutely. A lot of the album was written at a time when we were going to have to move out of London because we couldn’t afford to buy somewhere to live, so that was playing on our minds. And also maybe it’s the age we are – I think that plays a part. The song Leaving The Land was written about thinking we would have to leave London.

The album’s opening song, The Cally, is one of the more folky songs on the record. It’s about the characters who lived and worked on Caledonian Road in North London and it also mentions Pentonville Prison.

You like a prison song, don’t you? You had two on your first album – Send Her To Holloway and Borstal…

James: We love a prison song!

What was the inspiration for The Cally?

James: It was all down to my granddad, whose flat we’re now living in. He died a couple of years ago – he was 92. One day, we were in the kitchen and he was talking to me about when he lived and grew up around ‘The Cally’ and Almeida Street in Islington.

He liked to talk about the old days – he was telling me about a woman called ‘Woodbine Nellie’ who used to ‘work’ on the street. She was a lady of the night and I thought, ‘that’s a good name’.

I was walking down Caledonian Road one day and I started humming a song and I wrote it when I got home – I did it really quickly.

After The Cally, the next song on the record is Late Surrender. James – musically, it reminds me of some of the tracks you’ve played on with Pete Bruntnell…  [James has been a guitarist for several acts, including UK singer-songwriter Pete Bruntnell, Ray Davies, Son Volt, The Pernice Brothers, The Pogues and The Pretenders – he’s in the current Pretenders line-up]

It has a kind of Americana feel and jangly guitars…

James: Yes – it’s more rock. I can’t stand the term ‘Americana’ – I’ve never liked it.

Kami: I’m fairly allergic to the term ‘Americana’. It’s just English people playing American music – and, most of the time, quite badly.

Drowned In Blue and Hanging On are both melancholy songs – the former has a country feel to it, which is down to the pedal steel guitar.Was that a little bit of Nashville rubbing off on you?

James: It was – we thought we’d better give it a nod and Eric [Heyward] was in town. He’d been up all night, drinking moonshine with Tony Joe White’s drummer and they both rolled in… but he played amazing. He’s one of the best – a pedal steel stylist. No one else sounds like that guy.

Drowned In Blue has some psychedelic moments on it, too…

James: Exactly. We wanted to do what Ray Kennedy had done on those Steve Earle records – suddenly go from country to a Beatles thing. It’s like ‘what the fuck?’ It’s different from the folk thing. I wanted him to do his thing and put his stamp on it.

Kami: With our first album, we set out to make a folk-rock record with a ‘70s vibe, but an updated version of it. The first record was more of a concept – we had an idea and we worked towards making that happen. We wrote a few songs for it that were in that vein and we arranged some traditional songs in that style. With the new album, we wanted to make a heavier record – it felt more natural to us and it’s more of a reflection of the things that we like to listen to. We don’t listen to any folk music.

‘I’m fairly allergic to the term ‘Americana’. It’s just English people playing American music – and, most of the time, quite badly’

So do you feel like you’ve been tarred with the folk brush?

James: Not now, because we’ve got the new album…

Is folk a dirty word?

Kami: Not at all… I just hate anything that hasn’t got balls – I like things to have a bit of grit.

James: That’s what it’s about. It doesn’t matter whether it’s folk, or rock… we just wanted to make some great songs that had some grit. We wanted to sound heavier and for it to be electrified.

Drowned In Blue and Hanging On both seem to share a common theme – they’re songs about people who are at the end of their tether… maybe even suicidal…

Kami: James is regularly at the end of his tether!

James: That’s how I feel constantly! It’s funny talking about the themes of the songs because I hadn’t given it that much thought – I didn’t think about how dark it was. You’re right.

Kami: James is more the homicidal side of our marriage – I’m more suicidal! We should get some-T shirts made…

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We’re talking about how dark the album is – there’s actually a song on it called Dark Times. It’s about an abusive relationship…

James: Yes – it’s another abusive relationship song. It’s meant to be like one of those old ‘60s songs – a Dan Penn-type song. It’s Dann Penn-lite.

And it ends with some groovy ‘60s organ….

James: Organs are hip! It was meant to be like Cream doing a folk song.

Brick and Mortar is my favourite song on the album.

Kami: Mine, too.

It deals with how old London is being torn down by greedy property developers and it laments what’s happened to some of the old pubs, areas like Soho and famous places like Denmark Street – Tin Pan Alley…

Kami: It’s the rich taking over the world…

It’s a song about the death of London and, appropriately, it’s a kind of funeral march…

James: It really is – a very fast one.

And it reminds me of The Kinks….

James: It is a bit Kinks-y, but it started out as slow and acoustic – like something from Oliver.

Brick and Mortar is a protest song – in fact several of the songs on the album could be seen as ‘protest songs’, couldn’t they?

Kami: I think the whole album is a rant!

James: It does feel like more of a rant…

Let’s talk about your songwriting process? Do you write together or separately?

Kami: For the most part, we write separately, but James will finish a middle eight or a chorus for me and I’ll write some lyrics for him – or vice versa. We tend to each have written most of the song before the other person gets involved.

James: The songs are mostly written – it’s just tweaking.

Kami: There’s only one of my songs on the new album – Leaving The Land. James had written loads and by the time I went to put my songs into the ring, they weren’t really in the same vein.

James: I wrote furiously for a long time…

‘I think the whole album is a rant!’

What music are you listening to at the moment?

James: I like the new albums by Jason Isbell and Randy Newman. The Randy Newman album is called Dark Matter and it’s bonkers – I listened to it in the bath last night. It’s pushing the boundaries – it’s mental. I’ve been listening to the Elvis album A Boy From Tupelo – it’s his early recordings re-mastered.

Kami: I’m having a funny couple of weeks. Do you ever get those weeks when you’re allergic to music? Nothing’s right.

The other day I went through every record that I thought I might want to listen to and I ended up listening to Radio 4. Maybe it’s because we’re gearing up to tour and I’m learning songs. I think my brain’s full.

Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?

James: That’s an interesting question. A lot of them are dead!

Kami: A palate cleanser for myself would be a non-collaboration – just to quietly do my own thing.

James: I think that’s true for both of us – I think I’m going to do it as well.

What are the pros and cons of being a married couple in a band? Is it hard?

James: Yes – you never want to do any work!

Kami: It’s very difficult to carve out time to work.

James: We have real arguments about it– we’ve got very different views on music and everything….

Kami: Music is all James does, but I go into a non-music mode between records – I sometimes have to switch that mode back on.

James: This year I haven’t stopped working – we’ve done the album, the rest of the year is solid and we’ve got stuff lined up for next year – we’re doing another Rails tour and there’s Pretenders stuff on the go. I’ve written a few songs with Chrissie Hynde and there’s a Pretenders live album coming out in a couple of months.

You’re heading out on a nine-day UK tour in September and then you’re supporting The Pretenders after that. What can we expect?

Kami: It’s stripped down – a four-piece band.

James: It’s two electric guitars, bass and drums.

James – you’ll be playing guitar in The Pretenders, too. How do you feel about supporting yourself on tour?

James: It’s not ideal… It will be a long time, but we needed to do it. Chrissie Hynde loves us – thank God – and she’s very vocal about us.

Kami: It will be like when A Mighty Wind opened up for Spinal Tap!

James: I might have a costume change…

So what’s a typical Rails tour like? Is it rock and roll?

James: Rock and roll? There aren’t many tours that are rock and roll anymore…

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Other People – the new album by The Rails – is released on September 1 on Sony / Red Essential.

The Rails are touring the UK in September:

September 11 – Glasgow, King Tuts Wah Wah Hut

Tues 12  – Leicester, The Musician
Tue 13 – Hull, The Adelphi
Thurs 14 – Hedben Bridge, The Trades Club
Fri 15 – Manchester, The Deaf Institute
Mon 18 – Cambridge, Junction 2
Tues 19 – Norwich, Arts Centre
Wed 20 – London,  The Borderline
Thurs 21 – Newbury, Arlington Arts Centre




‘I would like to be remembered as the guy who never gave up’


Hurricane#1 – the 2017 line-up

Watch out – there’s a storm coming! Hurricane#1 are back with an epic new single – What About Love? – and their “pure rock and roll” album, Melodic Rainbows, is due out later this year.

I spoke to frontman Alex Lowe, who reformed the band in 2014, following a battle with cancer, to find out why only the strongest will survive…

Well, blow me down – it’s 20 years since ‘90s indie-rockers Hurricane#1 released their debut single, the anthemic Step Into My World.

Signed to music mogul Alan’s McGee’s label Creation Records in 1997, the band was formed by guitarist Andy Bell after the demise of shoegazers Ride.

Andy Bell was joined in Hurricane#1 by singer/guitarist Alex Lowe, bassist Will Pepper and drummer Gareth “Gaz” Farmer.

In 1997, I was working as a music editor on a South Coast listings magazine. I fell in love with Step Into My World when I was sent a promo cassette of it by Creation’s press officer. With its big, guitar-heavy, stadium rock sound – Andy Bell channels Neil Young – and a killer chorus, it became one of my favourite songs – and it still is…

A few weeks before the single came out, I was sent to interview Hurricane#1 at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, where they were supporting fellow Creation label mates, punk-poppers 3 Colours Red.

Backstage before the gig, I sat down to chat with the band members. I got on with all of them really well, but I was particularly drawn to Alex.

A former boxer, the Scottish frontman had a cool, tough-guy look, a wicked sense of humour and a great, raw and soulful singing voice that sounded like Faces-era Rod Stewart.

Before the interview could begin, Alex insisted that there was someone missing who needed to be there.

“Where’s Jack?” he asked, adding: “We can’t do the interview without Jack.”

“Who’s Jack?” I asked, naively.

“Ah – here he is,” said Alex, producing a litre bottle of Jack Daniels and pouring us two glasses…


Hurricane#1 – the original line-up

Since that day in 1997, when Alex and I first met, we’ve remained great friends.

Speaking to me in August 2017, he reminisces about our initial encounter: “I will always remember that. Oh – we had fun in those days. I loved every minute of it,” he says, laughing.

“They were great days – very special. I just can’t believe it was 20 years ago. Where does the time go? It was a great scene to be part of – music meant something back then. I just don’t feel like there is anything around anymore…”

Hurricane#1 split up in 1999 – Andy Bell left and joined Oasis and Alex embarked on a solo career. Sadly, in 2013, Alex was diagnosed with cancer, but he overcame his battle with the disease –  well, as the title of the 1998 Hurricane#1 hit single says, “Only The Strongest Will Survive” – and, three years ago, he reformed Hurricane#1 – albeit with a new line-up.

Alex is the only original member in the current reincarnation – he’s joined by Carlo Mariani (guitar), Chris Mullin (bass) and Chris Campbell (drums).

Hurricane#1 are about to unleash their fourth album, Melodic Rainbows, in the UK. Released in Japan late last year, it’s the follow-up to 2015’s pop and country-flavoured Find What You Love and Let It Kill You and is a much heavier record than its predecessor – it’s a big, noisy rock and roll album, with dirty guitars and a whole lot of attitude.

There’s also a stand-alone single due out later this year – the epic What About Love? – and some live shows planned for September, including Beano On The Sea in Hastings (Sept 8-10) and the Shiiine On Weekender (November 10-13,Butlin’s Minehead Arena).

I asked Alex to tell me more about the band’s plans for the rest of the year…

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Alex Lowe, recording Hurricane#1’s new single


Q & A

How are you doing?

Alex Lowe: I’m feeling good at the moment – it’s great to speak with you again, as it’s been a while. There’s great stuff happening in the Hurricane#1 camp – lots going on, with a new single, album and gigs.

You’ve just signed a record deal with UK indie label Strawberry Moon Records? How did that come about? 

AL: I can’t actually remember to be honest – ha ha! It’s just one of those things that happens when you are least expecting it. They got in touch and that was that really – it was very quick and informal.

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You’re gearing up for the release of a new single What About Love? When’s it coming out and what can you tell me about it?

AL: I think we are looking at a September/October release. I wrote it very fast, while I was sat at the kitchen table – the cat was staring at me, over a glass of JD…I was aiming for a big, anthem-type song – something people can sing along to and remember quite easily. We recorded it at a studio called RSD in Scotland.

You’ve given me an exclusive sneak preview of the song. It does have a big sound and you play guitar on it, don’t you? The solos remind me of those on Step Into My World…

AL: That was intentional. I wanted to get back to that early sound of Hurricane#1 – that epic feel. I played all the guitars on it, as Carlo was ill at the time – we needed it done quickly.

‘I wrote the new single very fast, while I was sat at the kitchen table – the cat was staring at me, over a glass of JD’

Will the single be on your new album, Melodic Rainbows?

AL: No it won’t – we have decided not to put singles on the albums, but just do entirely different tracks, like The Beatles did.

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The album has already been released in Japan. When can we expect it to come out in the UK?

AL: We are looking to release Melodic Rainbows very soon – maybe October. We do have 50 Japanese, signed limited edition copies available from our label Strawberry Moon Records.

Why did you release the new album in Japan first?

AL: We got an email from a label interested in releasing it, so we thought they could be the guinea pigs for the release, so we gave it to them and they put it out.

We recorded the album in Scotland, in a town called Turriff – my friend Steve Ransome engineered it. It’s a great place to record, as it’s in the middle of the Highlands and there’s no one around to bother you.

‘I wanted to get back to that early sound of Hurricane#1 – that epic feel. I was aiming for a more pure rock and roll album’

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album. It feels more full on and ‘in-yer-face’ than its predecessor, Find What You Love and Let It Kill You. Some of the songs have got dirty, loud guitars and big beats. What were you aiming for with it? 

AL: I was aiming for a more pure rock and roll album – a guitar album that was full of noise – and I think we accomplished that pretty well.

Carlo is a fantastic guitarist – all the band are great players – but I wanted him to shine through and he did. There’s some special playing on there from all the guys.

The opening track, I Wanna Kill You, is very noisy – it’s garage rock and roll. Is it about your battle with cancer?

AL: It was about killing cancer – nothing else. A lot of people thought it was about killing people! It’s not – it’s about killing cancer.

Liz Don’t Cry is an old song – I can remember you playing it to me years ago. What can you tell me about that song? It reminds me of R.E.M…

AL: Yeah! I remember when I had just written it and I played it to you on my acoustic guitar. It’s an old song reworked and it’s one of my favourites.

It’s actually about a next-door neighbour I had named Liz – she had just lost her father and I saw her crying in the garden, while she was hanging out washing. It was very sad to see.

‘Nobody knows how to speak anymore, or relate to each other in the non-cyber world. It’s very depressing to see sometimes’

The song LOL is Hurricane#1 goes dance-pop! What’s that all about?

AL: It’s a piss-take of the internet and mobile phone generation and all their vocabulary, like LOL and PMSL – all that nonsense. Nobody knows how to speak anymore, or relate to each other in the non-cyber world. It’s very depressing to see sometimes.

You worked with Danny Saber (Black Grape, The Rolling Stones, The Charlatans) on the new album. How did you hook up with him?

AL: I met Danny through a friend – Mark Millar from the blog XS Noise. He let Danny hear a new track of ours – Danny loved it and wanted to work with us.

Looking back to the late ‘90s, do you wish Hurricane#1 hadn’t split up when they did? Could you have made at least one more Hurricane#1 album?

AL: We could have done loads more albums and we should never have split up – it was ridiculous. Nobody had faith more than me in the band and nobody worked harder. It was very sad when we split.

When, in 2015, you played a Hurricane#1 comeback gig in Brixton, with your new line-up, Andy Bell and your former live keyboard player, Nick Moorbath, turned up to watch the show. How was it seeing them again?

AL: It was good to see Andy – he was a changed man, much more open and friendly. Nick has never changed – he’s still the same as ever and always up for something. It was great to see them at the show.

‘We could have done loads more Hurricane#1 albums and we should never have split up – it was ridiculous’

Are you still in contact with Andy? He played ‘backwards’ guitar on Think of the Sunshine, from your last album, didn’t he?

AL: I am still in touch – yeah. We text now and again, or tweet. He played on Find What You Love and Let It Kill You – he actually played on two of our tracks, one of which we didn’t use for the album. We might stick it out as a single or a bonus track one day.

This September, you’re playing some gigs, including Beano On The Sea in Hastings, with some other Britpop bands, including The Bluetones, Cast and Space. Are you looking forward to it? Do you stay in contact with many of your friends from ’90s bands?

AL: It’s going to be a blast! We can’t wait to get back on stage and blow the windows out! It’s great seeing all my old mates from The Bluetones and Space – they are all great guys and fantastic bands.

You were supposed to release a solo album earlier this year – the first single from it, Coal Trains, came out a few months ago.What’s the latest on the solo record? When’s it being released?

AL: I will be releasing a solo album, but I’m not sure when because we are so busy with Hurricane#1. My last single was all over the radio. I think it’s had around 12,000 downloads, so it’s looking great.

What music – new and old – are you listening to at the moment?

AL: You know me, mate – it’s The Stones and The Beatles and lots of Americana stuff as well. Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash….

There’s a Hurricane #1 documentary being made. What can you tell me about that?

AL: We’ve been filming footage for a brand new documentary and we are urging fans who’d like to be in it to send in small clips of them speaking about the band. There will also be a few rock and roll stars in it, as well as some old friends and colleagues.

‘It’s going to be a blast! We can’t wait to get back on stage and blow the windows out!’

As we said earlier, it’s been 20 years since Hurricane#1 started out. What would you like to be doing in 20 years’ time?

AL: Just to be alive I think. I have lost so many friends over the last three years that I just want to survive and to be able to look back and say I gave it my best shot.

So, how would you like to be remembered?

AL: That’s a tough one, but I think I would like to be remembered as the guy who never gave up.

Hurricane#1 release their new single, What About Love? later this year, followed by the album, Melodic Rainbows. For more information, visit their Facebook page or go to Strawberry Moon Records.

The band will play at Beano On The Sea in Hastings (Sept 8-10) and the Shiiine On Weekender (November 10-13, Butlin’s Minehead Arena).