Spending time with a musician is almost like spending time with a favourite member of your family, when the time comes that they have to leave, it can be a wrench to the soul; especially if they are one that captivates with such distinction on stage, if they have a persona that just radiates cool.
Canterbury’s Alison Green, or her musical alter ego Whisky Ginger Johnson, is one such musician. Firmly entrenched in the idea of the Progressive, even if she doesn’t quite realise it, Alison Green is a firm favourite of the I.P.O. A woman whose music straddles the Canterbury set with ease and to whom as soon as you listen to the stories that hide, camouflage themselves, only to appear as chronicles of a life so well lived, so endearing, that you cannot help but fall in love with them.
Sat downstairs on the day after her set at the 2016 International Pop Overthrow, mere feet from the statue of Beatles and the steam of tea slowly evaporating into the tunnel like structure of the building, the topic of conversation turns to many subjects, many legends of music and inevitably of her remarkable ability of telling a story.
I know since we last spoke, your album has been released and now you’re here at your third I.P.O., has anything changed in that period of time for you?
Alison: “A lot has changed since then, I don’t know where to start! A lot of personal stuff but it’s been really hard but overall, it’s positive, I’m not sure what to say about that. The artistic part comes from the personal part, I mean everything I write is brutally honest and so I’ve had a lot of inspiration recently and that’s just come jumping out so artistically I suppose it’s more angry. I’ve started playing differently and writing differently, writing some of the songs, they have become a bit more complex, so of them are still three chord wonders like Steel Man, it’s got two chords and nothing else! I feel that it should come with a warning, if you get bored easily just ignore this one!”
I noticed this last night, on a couple of the tracks, you said that they have become more complex but almost in a way progressive in terms of their musical stance. They are more of a story, which is the whole idea to me of being progressive – that they are longer and more involved, the art of telling of a story, you said that you’re more angry, things are flowing amongst those songs.
Alison: “I think it is definitely telling a story, there is a particular song when I think about this, it’s Stripe. So the structure of that is telling a story, there is a more typical song structure to it I think so verse, pre-course, course, chorus and that’s something I’ve been trying to achieve as before it was always just kind of a mess. I was really making an effort; it’s like a stream of consciousness that is usually how I do things, I mean there was one time when I wrote a song on the bus on the way home in ten minutes and it’s a really crap song, let’s not boast about it, it was really simple, very straightforward but it was like when the moment kind of strikes I do it then it’s out and that’s it. I try to revisit it and make it stronger but it usually doesn’t work but with that one it did work for me for some reason – Stripe. So the structure is better I was trying to fit in a stream of consciousness and telling a story but also to make it a bit more structured so it was a better song.”
It does work and I think that’s probably one of the reasons why I’m grateful to David Bash as he keeps asking you back here to perform.
Alison: “I’m amazed really!”
Although obviously I will say this, I found it difficult last night because of the amount of background noise but there was an awful lot of people concentrating and for an early evening set in the Cavern for the I.P.O., which was good to see.”
Alison: “I remember, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I think it was last year or the year before, I was playing at the Cavern Pub and it was a bit leery and a bit loud but you know I actually don’t mind that. There were a couple of lads who came up to me yesterday after the later set when I was standing at the bar and they just said thanks and that was great but they said it was a shame about the noise and yes it is a bit of a shame, most people who are there are there to listen to the music.
Actually it’s a bar, it’s the environment, it’s a pub, I quite like that really, it’s the diversity of human interaction, so a couple of years ago, quite loud, a lot of drunk people around, I couldn’t really hear much but I was alright with that they are doing their thing but there were about ten or so people sitting around, I could see their faces, they were like little lights looking at me and you are playing to those people and that’s o.k. so the guys are just having a drink that’s background noise that’s o.k. The noise is a little bit annoying but it’s comes with the territory really.”
I don’t know how difficult a concept it is for you but I find pride very difficult to understand but you must be very proud to come back to the I.P.O. for the third year on the trot, it’s very rare for this to happen. The Fast Camels have done it but the only other female solo act I can think of in recent times is Susan Hedges.
Alison: “Pride is a weird one. I kind of view things from afar, like from someone else’s perspective, it’s like watching oneself act. So I suppose I not proud, I’m baffled that I’m invited back each year, I mean I like doing it so as long as I’m invited I’ll keep on doing it.”
There was a point when you look at the I.P.O. schedule for Liverpool and I’m not the only one who does it, to think please let Alison Green be on the list!
Alison: “Thank you! That’s so kind!”
That isn’t only in relation to your song writing but for the way you handle yourself on stage, it’s endearing!
Alison: “I don’t know, that’s a little bit embarrassing but thank you, that’s very sweet. As I know I’m a very awkward person, I’m very uncomfortable in my own skin, so when I come to the stage I sort of make a thing about it, so when I’m mumbling into a microphone that’s sort of what I’m doing, part of the whole performance of being Whisky Ginger Johnson – she’s a character. Being uncomfortable, being kind of embarrassed about yourself and self-conscious, as long as that’s continuing, I may as well just make something of it. So that comes as part of the character, bumbling, kind of a bit weird because that’s a part of me as well.”
Do you think you’re just extending your genetic make-up on stage? You are you but you’re extenuating those facets?
Alison: “Oh yes, that’s really interesting thinking about things recently. From one moment to the next, we are never the same person, it’s like the idea that you never step into the same room twice. Who you are and who I am, like that guy in the café, that you are looking at and when he speaks, he is made up of all of the people who he has been before. He’s been a child, he’s been an adolescent, he’s is an adult, he’s been the designated driver, he’s been the drunk, we’re all these different people, there’s only aspects to us. We are never really the same; we are all these different people, so yes I quite like to play on that.”
One last question I think as I could go on all day! What’s next?
Alison: “I wanted to get another album out, ready for this I.P.O. but I didn’t manage to do it, basically the set I played was made up of very old songs and some very new ones. The album does have a theme, I don’t know whether you could call it a concept album but it is at the moment because it doesn’t exist!”
You do know that you are from one of the homes of the concept album with the whole Canterbury scene?
Alison: “Yes, new album then officially concept! I would like to gig more especially after last night, it really surprised me. I thought I was messing up pretty badly and there were a few duff notes but the response was overwhelmingly positive. There were so many people who came up to me and said it was great and that really warmed the cockles of my cold dead heart so I want to start gigging but to be honest, I’m probably the laziest person you’ll ever meet so I’ll do it if I feel like doing it!”
You should come back and play Liverpool at another venue; there a few that you’d do well in.
Alison: “Thank you, that would be great, I do actually love playing, I should really get into it. It’s like one of those things that you want to do, you want to have done it. So gig more and new album but that might be a few months off.”
Ian D. Hall