After some 26 years, I recently made contact with Alan Davis, one of the original three members of The Rose of Avalanche. Alan graciously agreed to answer a few questions after some weirdo messaged him out of the blue on Facebook, thanks again Alan
So sit back and enjoy the following interview which gives some first hand insight into the very earliest days of the band.
JP: Information is a little sketchy on the formation of the band, so hopefully you can help fill in some gaps! Tell us the story about how ROA came about…
I think you’ve already got it about right, James. Basically, Phil, Paul and myself were mates at school which came about from being in the same class, and a shared love of music. We stayed mates after we all left school and used to go out drinking and causing havoc in the local hostelries. At this time there were quite a few of us kicking around (not just Phil, Paul and myself). I guess that we were always the dreamers though and used to spend hours and hours talking about the bands that we liked and how we would one day form our own band and conquer the world.
JP: At what point did you decide you wanted to form a band?
I’m not entirely sure, but it was always going to happen (for the 3 of us). I was at college in Leeds and ended up knocking around with this guy who played bass. He offered me one of his old bass guitars for £30 and I snapped it up. I just remember being so made up that I was a rock and rolling bass player, but then got home and quickly realized that I couldn’t do a damn thing with it! I think that things developed pretty quickly after that, and Paul ended up getting a guitar, leaving Phil as the voice (we were always fans of drum machines in those days and so a drummer was never even considered). The first time that we played as the RoA was up in Phil’s attic/bedroom in Burley. I can’t remember much about what we did other than it was pretty crap and fairly typical of a group of lads with about 3 chords between them. We wrote a 3 chord wonder called Torn Love – ha! Phil and Paul will defo remember that!!! There was one night when we were in ‘the attic’ and we decided that we all wanted stage names. I cant remember how Phil got his name (maybe from the Marlboro that Paul and I smoked all the time) but I know that that was the night that PJB was christened and also I became Alan Davis (after Mike Davis – the bass player in the MC5 – I was WELL into them).
JP: Was it ’83 that you started?
Yeah – something like that.
JP: How did the name get decided?
We were in a café that we always frequented in the Merrion Centre and were trying to come up with a name. There was a poster on the wall of a mountain and so we ended up with the Avalanche bit from that (nothing to do with a drum machine!). Dunno about the Rose part, but I do know that we left that café very happy that we had got a cool name! I enjoyed that time in the band. We were really close at that time, and spent every Saturday in Leeds, supping coffee and hot chocolate in ‘our’ café and wondering round music shops looking at guitars and drum machines. Happy days, them.
JP: What were your influences at the time?
Probably all a bit different. I was definitely more influenced by punk/new-wave (Bowie, Iggy, Lou Reed, Pistols, MC5) where Paul was into The Cure, and Phil was heavily into Joy Division. We all liked Motorhead as I remember, and had a lot of admiration for the local bands like The Sisters and The Violets. We used to go to bloody hundreds of gigs in those days – particularly at The Warehouse. I remember seeing Killing Joke, REM, Cabaret Voltaire, Flesh for Lulu, The Long Ryders, Suicide, The Fall – we were there every week.
JP: What was in the water in Burley during the early 80s?! It seems to have been the spawning place for the entire Leeds Goth movement?
It did feel like a good place to be in those days. There were loads of bands around (some we knew, some we didn’t). Phil was usually the one who knocked around with the other bands.
JP: I think you were a little younger than most of the Leeds bands that were making a name for themselves at that time, but I guess you must have been aware of the growing success of Leeds based bands like The Sisters, March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, etc?
We were younger, yeah. And it felt like it, too. Most of the bands were formed at Uni and so were early to mid twenties. We were most definitely not uni educated, and were a fair bit younger… 17, 18, 19, something like that.
JP: I hear The Faversham was the “place to be” for the Leeds scene back then – did you guys hang out there much? Any stories to tell?
We did – a lot. By the time The Fav came into our lives we were already a little less close than we had been at the start. Phil started knocking around with a couple of other local bands for various reasons, so it tended to be just Paul and myself heading to the Fav and chatting with whoever was there at the time. All the local bands seemed to go to The Fav. I definitely remember that the Sisters crowd used to hog the pool table all night (pool hogs!).
JP: For such a young group of lads the initial batch of recorded songs seemed to be incredibly mature – both musically and lyrically. Did it come so naturally?
Thank you and yes, I suppose it did. Phil wrote all the lyrics so only he can take credit for that, but Paul and I wrote the music and it did seem pretty natural. I reckon that LA Rain was only about the 5th or 6th song that we wrote, and bear in mind that we were only just learning to play our instruments at that time. I still think that’s pretty cool.
JP: Do you remember the origins of the Phil’s American accent
He was American, wasn’t he? Ha! Ha! No, not really. I just remember playing our first gig and after the opening song (Assassin) he started waffling on in a faux NYC accent. Paul and I just looked at each other and shrugged.
JP: What was the song writing process like?
Most of those early songs came via a similar process. Paul would generally just mess about on the guitar playing random chords and then I’d suddenly shout “stop – play that again”. It might only have been a 2 chord sequence, but it was often enough to build a song around. I think that I tended to build most of the song structures in those days, but Paul often started things off. Phil was definitely the lyrics man, and to be fair to him I think he did a pretty good job at it. Paul and I spent a few hours trying to write lyrics, but always gave up when we realized how hard it was (much harder than the music). Glenn’s influence on the song writing process also started to grow as we developed as a foursome. He was light years ahead of us, technically, but tended to take a back seat when it came to song writing. But, he was a bloody gifted guitarist and that alone helped him to influence the way that a song developed. I particularly remember that I came into the studio with the basis of A Thousand Landscapes which I was in the process of writing. We jammed away at it for a while and then Glenn added this guitar part which absolutely blew our minds. I just remember looking at Glenn as we played it and (at that part) we both knew it was really good.. it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Unfortunately, like with a lot of our songs, we never really managed to do it justice in the studio.
JP: Where are the embarrassing “baby photo’s? There must be some lost terrible early songs or did you really go straight from schoolboys messing about to songs of the quality of LA Rain?
Torn Love, as mentioned previously. Ha! Ha! I’d love to hear that classic again!!! We actually recorded Torn Love at a studio in Armley, along with a dreadful version of the Beatles song, Birthday. We thought we were great until we got back to Phil’s and listened to it! That was probably the catalyst for the band and how we progressed from there on in….. we became a lot more professional.
JP: That initial period for the band must have been a really productive time, as it seems that pretty much most of the material the band released between ’85 – ‘86 was written while you were still in the band?
Yeah, but that’s what we were into. The band was our lives. We rehearsed, wrote songs, rehearsed them and wrote more songs. Simple.
JP: What Rose tracks stand out for you as favorites?
I suppose LA Rain, as it was pretty much responsible for everything that happened afterwards. If we hadn’t been on that local LiL compilation album, John Peel would never have latched onto us and it would have been much, much harder to make it. I like Velveteen, which I wrote most of the music for and I think it has stood the test of time pretty well. Rise to the Groove and Too Many Castles were also great to play live – real rockers and got the place banging. Pity that ‘Rise’ was so badly recorded, as it was a cracking little song. If I could re-record one song from all that time it would be that one. Funnily enough, I only heard one of the Rose songs that I wrote most of the music for a couple of months ago – Never Another Sunset. We played it on a Janice Long session, but I was long gone by the time the band recorded it. I’d even forgotten what it went like and so was quite excited to hear it. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointment and (again) a bit of a let down in the studio.
JP: I understand you met Glenn at Parkside when you recorded LA Rain and American girls for the Parkside Shivers compilation. Tell us how he came to join the band.
Glenn worked at Parkside (not sure what as!). We used to chat to him and got on well and always admired his guitar playing. We invited him to play 12 string on LA Rain, which he did, and his playing was very good too – makes that song! After that it was just a case of time before we asked him to join. Paul, Phil and I had a chat in the rehearsal room and decided that we would ask him to join. I ‘think’ that I popped the question (but I could easily be wrong!).
JP: Both Paul and Glenn have said that him joining was a bit of a shortcut for the band, as he was a little more experienced. Paul also said it kind of messed up the original dynamic of the three of you. What were your thoughts on that?
He was more than a “little more experienced”. Glenn was a proper guitarist, classically trained and everything. We were just bairns, learning the game. It’s hard to explain what I think about the dynamic. Glenn was critical to the development of the band and his playing took us to another level. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t have got there eventually, but like Paul and Glenn have said, it was a shortcut. Glenn had a very different style of playing to what we had been used to, and certainly to what we were listening to at the time. We were listening to punk/new wave guitarists and Glenn was very definitely not that! I think Glenn liked the more classical rock bands like Led Zeppelin. I suppose that Glenn joining did change the dynamic. He was a good bloke, Glenn, but just very different from the rest of us.
JP: From the outside looking in it seems to have been a whirlwind from first recording (Parkside Shivers) to first single (LA Rain) to recognition and airtime from John Peel. Was it really that quick?
It was. Write songs (LA Rain and American Girls), rehearse them, get invited to record them for local LiL compilation, get asked to record session for John Peel, make JPs festive fifty! All before we had played a gig.
JP: What was it like to be an “overnight sensation!”
Dunno if I’d describe it as that. We were cocky and arrogant, so (somewhat bizarrely) we expected it to happen. I suppose it just made us even cockier and even more arrogant! No wonder the music press hated us!
JP: From talking to Paul, the reaction to LA Rain was somewhat unexpected, so much so, that you hadn’t really had much experience playing live as a band. Was there pressure to deliver from the off at gigs?
I suppose that most people expect a band who has a Peel session under their belts to be able to cut it live. Well, we couldn’t (at least at first). We could play alright, and with the amount of practicising we did we were very tight. We just had no stage presence. Shame that.
JP: How did you get LA Rain and Goddess out. They were released on local Leeds label LiL, right?
Yeah – just through the rehearsal studio’s label (LiL). Mike (the little Scandinavian bloke that owned the studio) set up LiL and put out this compilation album (Parkside Shivers) of the bands that rehearsed there. After the success with John Peel, Mike asked us to record our first couple of singles on LiL.
JP: Bootlegs of early live shows highlight Phil was learning how to interact with audiences. To be fair, I’m not quite sure the band ever really had a warm on stage relationship with fans or with the press. Was the “mean & moody” image all part of the plan?
Not really. Probably just embarrassed at how little stage presence we had (see previous answer).
JP: Was there a “grand plan” for the band – was it world domination, or a take it as it comes approach.?
No grand plan as far as I can remember. We never doubted we’d make it, it was always just a matter of how long would it take. I guess that events after I left the band had a pretty negative impact on that really happening.
JP: Although I know you did not play on The Mission tour, where you still in the band when the option came up for the World Crusade support slot, or had you left by then?
I can’t remember tbh. We were always supposed to be supporting The Mission at some gig or other, but it never happened for whatever reason. I guess that they finally resolved whatever the problem was if they toured with them eventually. I can’t say I was that bothered about not supporting The Mission as I never really liked them (although, oddly enough I’m going to see them play in a few weeks!)
JP: How did your decision to leave come about?
Two reasons. One, I was getting a bit tired of the direction that the music was going. We were getting less and less ‘punk / new-wave’ and moving more to the rock/goth sound. I guess this was down to Glenn’s playing style – not a criticism, just a fact. Two, I started going out with a girl and she took my whole attention away from the band. The Rose had been my life and suddenly I had other, more important things going on. I don’t do things by half, so it was time for me to walk.
JP: Any regrets on leaving? You were certainly drawing a lot of attention at that point?
Not regrets as such, but I do occasionally wonder what would have happened if…….
JP: Not many people are able to say they notched a couple of Indie No1 singles and had John Peel as a fan. Do people know much about your rock ‘n’ roll past?
Some do, but I guess most don’t.
JP: Did you stay in touch with the lads as the bands career developed?
Not really. I saw Paul a couple of times, but not Phil or Glenn.
JP: Any favorite memories of the band?
Yeah – rehearsing in a church hall with Phil and Paul in the freezing cold when a goat wandered into the church hall and we had to chase it around the bloody place before it ate our guitar leads. I also loved our first tour abroad when we played some festival in Holland. We played one night at the festival and the place was absolutely heaving, people literally hanging from the rafter and singing along to every word of every song. That was really good!
JP: Any message for the fans?
How can you answer that! I guess all I can say is that I’m glad that the music has brought some pleasure to some people. Cheers!