Our sound was recently described as “An Explosion of Colour”.
I met up with John Rose on one of those busy Saturday’s at De Koffie Pot when catching a table is unlikely, regardless of the weather. The Hereford Contemporary exhibit was in full swing all around us complete with live demonstrations, instigating our curiosity and filling us with creative vibes. I was interested to get to know John from an interview perspective since he is part of The Underground Revolution, a friend and a talented contributor to this blog. In reality John is a tireless source of music and art knowledge so it was bound to be interesting.The obvious fact is that this is a Pablo Alto interview featuring John Rose, but equally celebrating each valuable member of Pablo Alto with the assistance of artist extraordinaire Jeanette McCulloch who took over on the Ledbury side.
Meanwhile, in Hereford, John tucked into his coffee and cake (which De Koffie Pot is known for), I indulged in a pot of tea and an overloaded scone lending myself the difficult task of trying not to speak with my mouth full. John was his usual friendly self and the joy on his face while nibbling away at his cake just added to his lustre. Such a sweet guy! This was his moment, he had worked hard for it and I was going to give it to him.
John Rose – Vocals and Guitar
David Savagar – Drums
Bass – John Steve Crews
Hereford City Centric: Tell me about the origins of Pablo Alto?
John Rose: We recently formed in 2015 as a four-piece, but as time went on two members left the band but David and I felt it was worth carrying on. We had already organised the Punk ‘n’ Poetry event for the Ledbury Poetry Festival and were on the bill to perform, so we needed a bass player pretty quickly. Steve was only meant to fill in for that one show since he is in local Ledbury punk band The Youth Within who are always gigging. We figured it would be just fine as a 3-piece for the night.
HCC: I remember that clearly, it was a close and stressful call but you certainly managed to work it out. So it turns out Steve stayed on board. I actually feel a huge improvement in the sound already. It feels pretty powerful. What is different about the dynamic now that Steve in the band?
John: As you mentioned, one show turned into him becoming the full-time bassist for Pablo Alto. His bass playing style is really powerful and confident. An added bonus is that the three of us have a mutual love for stoner rock – also a Dead Meadow and Fuzz connection.
We decided to remain a 3-piece, so we compensate by playing to our strengths. We have started using more spacey effects, it’s a bit of sonic exploration. I used to play rhythm guitar but now I do the lead which suits me. Our sound was recently described as “An Explosion of Colour”.
‘Spacecat’ is about a recurring dream. I often have anxiety dreams about my cat Pablo going missing, and in this one he happens to be missing in space.
HCC: That’s pretty accurate. John lead guitar really does suit you…and you have a pretty guitar to boot.
John: The guitar didn’t cost much. It’s a Fender Jazz Master I customised in Surf Green and added some other bits.
HCC: Surf Green is a sexy colour. Steve, how are you getting on playing bass in two Ledbury bands that are part of two different music genres?
Steve:: I like being in both Pablo Alto and The Youth Within. Pablo Alto is more technical with more variation, and The Youth Within is raw punk. There are different styles involved with the playing.
HCC: Do Pablo Alto have any bigger shows on the horizon booked yet for 2017? I know Steve is busy playing festivals like Rebellion (wow) with his punk band The Youth Within so I imagine you have to work around each other. I keep seeing them every where and I noticed they had an interview with PNX news. Pretty amazing. Not sure it can get more ‘in’ then that round these here parts.
Dave:: In 2017 we plan to do some DIY low-fi scuzzy recordings, would love to play at Psych Fest, Green Man or End Of The Road..
John: Space cakes, voodoo masks and multi-coloured freak outs.
HCC: Another member of the band with strong creative ties is drummer Dave Savager, how did you guys come together to form Pablo Alto? Whose idea was it initially to start Pablo Alto?
Dave: I met John when we were hanging flags up for the Ledbury Poetry Festival and we talked about music. I remember we talked about Sonic Youth. Then we jammed in the cellar of an art gallery.
John: There was something dark lurking in the cellar.
Dave: We began experimenting. John was writing songs and working on his voice. We
had heard Steve playing in the Youth Within and asked if he would join us and be in two bands.
HCC: I used to frequent Dave’s art gallery in Ledbury. The Shellhouse Gallery was a hub of creative energy. I bought my lomography camera there which I sadly never mastered. The fact that Dave and his wife were so young and forward thinking drew me to their exhibits regularly.
The song ‘Spacecat’ seems to be a favourite especially live, what is it about and what other lyrical themes do you explore in your songs?
John : ‘Spacecat’ is about a recurring dream. I often have anxiety dreams about my cat Pablo going missing, and in this one he happens to be missing in space. I guess I have a real bond with him, he is quite a character!
Songs lik e ‘Tension’ or ‘Fall’ have a theme of anxiety simmering beneath the surface, the feeling of being alienated from society or the world in general, and not fitting in or being comfortable with the way things are. Let’s face it, we’ve all got a lot to be tense about these days. ‘Fever’ is about being addicted to rock’n’roll and getting carried away with it all to the point of irrationality, while ‘Surrender’ could be about an out of body experience or a psychedelic trip, I guess it’s up to the individual.
It’s cool because we never play ‘Spacecat’ or ‘Surrender’ the same way, they’re free form
jams and we can take them anywhere we want.
HCC: So on an individual level, what were the music influences that made you the cool dudes you are today Pablo Alto?
John : Sonic Youth, Bauhaus, Syd Barrett, Clash. Sex Pistols, Damned, The Chameleons, 13th Floor Elevators, Dead Meadow, Olivia Tremor Control…to name a few.
Dave : The three of us have different angles of musical influences, I love ‘Can’ my mate Chris made me a tape of Can and I listened to it so much I wore the tape out!.. John got me into Traams and Ty Seagull and we all love Joy Division.
Steve : The first music I remember hearing was GBH, when I was 12, and then I kept discovering different punk bands. Our first band night out was a Dead Meadow and Milk gig in Cardiff. A wonderful experience.
I was a member of the Hacienda and loved it, although I remember the Temperance Club night was pretty dead to begin with. I wish I still had my membership card!
John : One of the best bands i’ve ever seen was Bauhaus…BelaLugosi’s Dead cutting though the dry ice and white light as Pete Murphy emerged bat-like from the darkness in his black cloak.
HCC: Love it all…every bit! John is my music guru too.
MUSIC AND ART TALK WITH JOHN ROSE
HCC: Going back to you a bit John, how long have you been doing music?
John: My first gig was really the start of it for me. I was 14 and went with my sister’s college friend to a gig in Manchester. The band sounded like the Buzzcocks and from then on it fired my imagination.
The other pinnacle moment was going to see The Clash perform at the Manchester Apollo when I was 15. The thing about growing up in Manchester during that time (80’s) was that there were so many good bands playing on a weekly basis to be inspired by. I had to commute through some pretty rough areas on the bus to see these bands, but it was normal for me at the time and worth it. I was a member of the Hacienda and loved it, although I remember the Temperance Club night was pretty dead to begin with. I wish I still had my membership card!
HCC: I need to kiss your feet. No you can have my tea instead. The Hacienda had an illusion of greatness growing up in California. Have you been in other bands?
John: I used to be in a band called Autumn Leaves whose sound were inspired by the Stone Roses and Primal Scream. We did some good shows.
HCC: Where do the psych influences come in?
JR: Well back in the day Radio 1 was quite different to what it is now. I recorded an hour long psychedelic show they aired onto cassette that I think I still have somewhere. It blew me away. They were playing bands like the Chocolate Watchband and The Seeds.
A collection of John’s art work and music posters for The Underground Revolution
HCC: Tell me a bit about your art career?
John: I love photography and music photography has been my biggest love. I put a book together of my festival photography over the past ten years recently because I had such a great collection of images. It is titled Every Second Counts and was put out in limited edition copies during the Ledbury Poetry Festival.
I started out as a collage artist about 2 years ago after seeing 2 London Art exhibitions – Hannah Hoch at The Whitechapel Gallery and Kurt Schwitters at The Tate Modern, both fantastic and I knew immediately that was what I wanted to do. I already loved 60’s pop art
and the work of Warhol, Peter Blake, and Robert Rauschenberg.
HCC: It’s weird I feel like you have been doing this stuff for ages. I love the posters you have designed for us at The Underground Revolution and I can now see both Hoch and Schwitters influence in your collages. We always await them with anticipation and are never disappointed. In a way, your vast knowledge of music and pop art culture both past and present comes through in them. Do you have plans to further your career as a collage/pop artist?
John: I’ve got into designing music posters as this seemed a natural progression and means I can combine my love of Punk graphics / Pop Art / Collage and 60’s psychedelic rock posters.
LEDBURY POETRY FESTIVAL
HCC: I attended several Ledbury Poetry Festival workshops and exhibits at the Shell House Gallery and I remember you ran the poetry festival box office out of there (now ran out of the council building).
You also contribute to putting on poets and music nights for the Poetry Festival adding a bit of edginess to the more serious poetry and traditional literary atmosphere you would expect from a Poetry Festival. The Punk ‘n’ Poetry event you hosted with The Underground Revolution at this years festival sold out as did the John Cooper Clarke and Luke Wright event last year, who can we look forward to in 2017?
John: Aaah it’s a closely guarded secret at the moment.. Well it is to me anyhow! I think we have John Hegley who’s one of my faves and I would like to get Thurston Moore as he brought out a great book of his lyrics and poetry called Stereo Sanctity last year and he founded Flowers & Cream a small press / independent publishing imprint for young emerging poets.
Punk’n’Poetry was a huge success and we hope to have more music fringe events around the town. The John Cooper Clarke and Luke Wright gig was amazing too, with 230 people turning up for a memorable night of punk poetry, laughter and swearing! Keep checking the poetry festival website for announcements in the new year, the dates of next years festival are 30 June – 9 July.
HCC: Did you just say Thurston Moore??!! Ok I may faint if that happens.
THE UNDERGROUND REVOLUTION / HEREFORD CITY CENTRIC
HCC: You are also a member of the Underground Revolution and a big contributor to the Hereford City Centric Retail and Culture Blog. When it all began we were filling a cultural void that has encouraged others to express themselves freely. Do you consider yourself a cultural revolutionary? What advice do you have for Millenials who want to be a part of a culture revolution?
John: The most imortant thing is for local people to get out and support events, go to the Gigs and see all the talented local musicians and artists we have in this city. The Booth Hall does a brilliant job both as a live venue and a meeting place for like-minded people to get
together. It would be fantastic to create a scene and get more and more people to gigs and art events around the county. People have so much shit going on in their lives they need an outlet, and there’s plenty going on out there right now.
We are lucky to have great live bands, local music festivals, a poetry festival, a film festival, and an arts festival but these events are nothing without the people so get out there and show your support. Form a band, make some art, write some poetry, take yourself out of your comfort zone and get involved, you might even surprise yourself. To quote Charles Bukowski “Some people never go crazy, what truly horrible lives they must lead”,
HCC: We are hosting a psych garage show together on November 25 with Pablo Alto and The Hungry ghosts. In a way, our cast of promoters aka characters each add their own influences into the melting pot that is the Underground Revolution which is a counter-culture music promotion entity made up of members from three bands (Pablo Alto – John Rose, Terminal Rage – Rich Lovell and Freeborn Rising – Matt Broom and Thorin) as well as, myself and photographer Nickie Bates.
So basically, we have seen a lot of local bands. What do you think of the current crop of Herefordshire bands? Which bands have you been most impressed by?
John: There’s some really excellent bands out there now, I love Skewwhiff, who have a really great post-punk sound, local punk bands The Youth Within and Terminal Rage are great too. On the folkier side, Shannon Walker, Freeborn Rising, Tobion, Elspeth Anne and Mark Stevenson are all recommended. Go see them all!
Thank you John, it has been a pleasure to sit in De Koffie Pot courtyard drinking tea and eating scones like proper lunching ladies/gentlemen in the midst of the Hereford Contemporary art exhibit buzzing around us in the courtyard. Be on the look out for John’s Vinyl Review articles on Hereford City Centric, Pablo Alto shows and artwork. This guy is on top of his game.
Interview collaboration by Michelle Cuadra and Jeanette McCulloch
Featured Image by Jeanette McCulloch
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