Ahead of their show at The Running Horse, I interviewed Al Rate of the DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show, a group with roots in both Skiffle and Americana music. Al may also be known to some as a teacher at the University’s School of Health Sciences.
The band has a rather unique name, how does it represent your music?
There’s a twofold influence from the DH Lawrence part, as a band local to the Nottingham area, all of us from around the Bagthorpe Delta, as Lawrence was, there’s a picture of Lawrence in our local pub, the Dixie’s Arms. His eyes in the photo always seem like they follow you around, though that may just be too many beers! Having read a lot of his works, poems and novels, he’s a big influence on our music. The Vaudeville part comes from us wanting our performances to be a show, the audience frequently gets involved with our shows, whether that’s through singing along or through getting someone on stage to play the washboard. We’re cutting back on some parts as it’s too costly, we used to get kazoos for the audience to use in the show, but the audience participation still remains a key part of it for us. The influence of homemade Skiffle gives the music a rough edge, purposely not perfectly produced, Americana is also a huge personal influence on that raggedy style of playing, especially personally being influenced by the Felice Brothers.
While it’s a unique name, it’s not staying around for long, what’s the reasoning behind the name change to come?
The new name is a more practical one for us, unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it is yet! Since we’re moving away from Skiffle music, and having the epithet Skiffle in our name gives a certain kind of expectation, it’ll be easier for us to get more gigs within the Americana scene without it. Also, the name’s just too long! We’ve had promoters complain in the past that our name is too long to fit onto posters, and they have a point. The new name will be shorter and reflect our stylistic change a little. We’re going to be selling some merch with our new name, but wrapped up as a present, so our followers can find out our new name as a blind Christmas present.
You’ve got a new CD on the way; how does it compare to your previous music?
There’s definitely a slight change of sound in our new CD, we’re moving slightly away from Skiffle towards more Americana. We’re also starting to use electric guitars, which we’d never really done previously, so it’s definitely a new sound to what people may be used to. We’re also starting to use a few more instruments like the double bass and cajón as well as incorporating a slight drum and bass element, so it’s definitely a new direction in our music. It’s a collection of songs which vary in theme, from “Sinners Get Ready” which focuses on the local legend of people getting baptised in the local Brook, to “Bye Bye America”, a commentary on modern day America, and of course Trump. We had a long discussion in the band as to whether we should put in on the CD, but we’re not a political band, the song is just a commentary, rather than an opinion, we’re not like Billy Bragg.
Could you describe your songwriting process?
I don’t know if I can really call it a process, I get my ideas from things I read, hear, and see. I claim to be visited by the Song Fairy, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and a bunch of ideas will come together. I have to write them down first thing in the morning, or else they’ll disappear, I can’t even talk to my wife or kids in the morning before I get it down! After getting the lyrics together, I’d build a melody around it with guitar and from there the other band members will make their parts. None of us write music, so we play by ear. One of us will often ask another member for a certain mood or feeling from their instrument, and tweak it from there.
What song do you wish you had written?
It would be one of the first songs that I learnt to play, “Whiskey in my Whiskey” by the Felice Brothers, it’s got a great sound and it’s easy to learn. It’s one of those songs that’s always a crowd pleaser as the audience can pick it up and singalong at first listen, I find myself singing it to this day.
And a few words about your upcoming tour?
We’ve called it the ‘Not Much Going on Before Christmas Tour’ because as a band we sat down and though “We don’t have many gigs before Christmas” then as we looked into it, we found that we actually had over 15 gigs and we do in fact have quite a lot going on before Christmas, so it’s a tongue in cheek tour name.