Ally Wood

Ally Wood

Interviewed on 08.12.2009

View photos and materials supplied by Ally.

 

INTERVIEWER:

I’m Cayn White. I’m here with Ally Wood who’s a local performer with various bands and theatre groups.  Ally moved here in 1983 which I’ll get on to later on, but before that you were touring with various theatre groups.  How did you get into theatre work and what inspired you to…well, to do theatre work?

ALLY WOOD:

When I was a teenager, my aunt was involved in a group and I used to go and stay with her, and it was amazing to me to see adults working really hard on something that they really believed in what they were doing, and I thought it was great, it was exciting, cos at that time I was disillusioned with everything you know, I thought everything was hypocritical and it was punk time, and….yeah that’s it really, seeing people working hard – adults doing something interesting and not rubbish.

What was touring with the theatre groups like?

Well it’s interesting cos you’re with a gang, you know, you’re with one gang of people, a group of people, and you’re moving into a new place, you’re putting your tents up, getting your caravan and….you never know who you’re gonna meet, and what kind of place it’s going to be like.  It’s great being in a gang….and it was really exciting, and making things – often they were site specific shows that we were doing as well so we were going out to the scrapyards and…..to get stuff to make things with, playing music round the bonfires, it was really good [laughing].

As you just said, in theatre groups it were like a gang.  Was there any internal conflict or was it just one big happy family?

No there’s always…I think when you get people who care about things, who care about what they’re doing, it’s inevitable that you’re gonna get people falling out about it isn’t it?  And also it’s interesting learning how to work together, and I think that’s been one of the most interesting things – how to get a group of people to work together, communicate together and play music together, and that was a good way to see it cos you’re not in a hierarchy, you’ve never done it before, there’s no rules of what to do, you know, you’ve got to make it up as you go along and every different situation’s a new situation so you’ve got to work it out for yourselves so it’s really exciting – how to get the best out of people.  The other great thing about the theatre was that you’d go to a place, slowly get the ideas for a show, everyone would get their ideas, start working towards it, gradually the pace would pick up until you get to the deadline and everyone would be working really hard and really late, do the show, then everyone was ready for the party at the same time to let off steam, and I really miss that in everyday life now – you know, everyone’s at different rhythms aren’t they?  Some people are working one day, some people a day off, and I think that’s a shame, that we’re not all ready to let off steam at the same time.

With all the touring and stuff, how did you come to settle in over here?

Well how we came here, wherever we were we wanted to find a ruin cos we hadn’t got any money, and we just happened to find this in Exchange and Mart and when we got to this valley, came up through the woods and there were lots of empty properties at that time, and we just thought it was brilliant, and as soon as we got here we met other people, like-minded people you know, interested doing stuff and it’s been great.

You’re currently appearing in a show band at the moment called ‘The Ski Band’ who were originally formed around the year 2000.  Am I correct in thinking these were just a band you have to try and go on holiday with basically?

Well that’s how it started.  It was from two other working bands, people who were friends, and we just picked the people who we thought would be more fun, you know on steep ice slopes and – cos ski-ing’s quite scary and we just thought the people who would be more fun there and…cos you never know where you’re gonna be playing, so the band started to go on holiday with and gradually we thought – I think it was something to do with the process as well because…because we picked it to go on holiday and people would come and say ‘shall we do this, shall we do this, shall we do that tune, shall we do that tune’ and everyone just said ‘yeah yeah, go on’ cos we wanted to get a band quick to go on holiday with, and after a while we realised that that’s the best way of getting a band together because there was no-one saying ‘oh no wait a minute – that’s not right’ and it was a good attitude to play with, so we started getting gigs in England, working in England afterwards but that spirit still stayed with us I think, of….’yeah let’s try it’

And to me a show band seems more like a more unique concert than a normal band, more normal conventional band.  How would you describe a show band?

I think because we want to make a show, we dress up, we want to have fun, we want to go out and communicate to the people and let them have a good time or whatever the occasion, you know, enhance the occasion, and we’re not really a cool band – although I think we are of course really cool – and also because we are working and we need to make our money and that’s where you make the money, by going and fitting in to other situations, but I do believe in playing in the street and going out and playing on the streets you know, we’ve played outside of a lot of major events [laughing] but I do think that’s a good thing to do because you know when you go and play in the pubs and the clubs and sometimes you can end up just being in the background which is great as well, but when you’re outside on the street and people are just walking about their everyday business, and if you can then get them to stop and have a little dance or have a snuggle with their boy or something, you know I believe in that.  I think if more people stopped and danced every day it would be better.

Playing in the streets and obviously various ski resorts, there must be some gig stories there, some memories there which you would be willing to share with us?

Oh well – one time we did get taken up to the top of a mountain in the rescue helicopter, in the air rescue helicopter and we all piled into this tiny little helicopter which had like a bulbous glass front and they stashed all the instruments underneath, where the bodies usually go, and we went up – they took us up on to the top of the mountain where you could ski to, and there was a little hut there where the rescue people stayed as well, and it was over lunch time which was about the hour and a half where it was warm enough to play, and we played there.  They got some ferocious liquid out in tiny little glasses and gave it to us to give us more energy – Daz the tuba player nearly got blown off the edge.  It was so cold his valves froze up, and…..anyway so we had a good sort of half hour play and went and retired into their hut while the helicopter got fired up again, and we thought ‘it’s taking a bit of a long time’ and…then….I think did we…we actually got into the helicopter and we heard the guy starting to swear in French and we couldn’t really understand what was going on, and then we all had to get out of the helicopter again because it wouldn’t start, and so we were waiting up in this hut and gradually it got cold really quickly – it suddenly gets cold after about four o’clock, and we really – we were wondering what was gonna happen and he was cross because he was gonna be in real trouble with the helicopter stuck up there overnight you know, what had been a bit of jolly joke, anyway in the end a ski pister machine made its way up to the top of the hill and they jump started the helicopter, so we got in quickly in a bit of a rush, and the guy set off straight over the hill, straight down like that and started coasting the ridge so were like aaaaagh [screaming] and after a while we realised that he was just having a laugh with us – it had been tense to get it started, you know you think ‘what happens if it, if it – what’s that word when the engine seizes – stalls – but he was perfectly fine and he was just doing it to scare us, coasting the ridges over on the way home, and he was a proper hero actually that pilot.  He’d worked all over the world on rigs, in South Africa, all over places, but the sad end of that story is that the next year we came and he’d been killed on a rescue, you know going out in a, in a storm and with a co-pilot.  He’d said ‘no, we’re gonna go, it’s too dangerous’ and then the other guy said ‘yes we have to go’ and they were killed, so ….another story I was really….there was one time we set off to go and play in a massive CND march…it was one of the biggest ones in London, I can’t remember the date, and we put our best clothes on, and of course we got jammed up in all the traffic so we couldn’t get there, so there was just two of us – double bass and accordion, and we were racing to try and find it and it started surging towards us down – we were somewhere in the middle of London – so we just stopped by the side of the road and I think we played to two hundred thousand people that day, but it was brilliant just seeing people walking – tired you know, fed up, need a pee, and just giving a bit of a break to them when they say these two nutters standing there playing with their best frock on.

You once played in a band called ‘The Peace Artists’

Yeah.

Which featured a lot of demonstrations you – well played in a lot of demonstrations.  What was the atmosphere like there cos I understand you did the Poll Tax march in Halifax as well.  What was the atmosphere back then like..at the marches?

Well……..I think when you go to a thing like that to play, there is always a special atmosphere because all those people have just turned up, you know they’ve put aside whatever it was they were gonna do that day and they care enough about something to go and give time and, you know it’s a slightly different energy cos you can talk to people and you meet people and you know it moves your heart really, and…but I do remember walking up that main road at the front of the parade and yeah…you feel pleased, glad you’re alive really and…glad to be part of….other people feel the same as you do, and it’s good, you know, people like it, we get a lot of people…music…moves people.

‘The Peace Artists’ to me, they seemed more politically aware than most groups.  Would you say in fact you’re still politically motivated or have your views changed over the years?

 Oh that’s a difficult one.  I think it’s hard that all you get…and you see that things don’t change, also you see the things that you read about when you were young in the little alternative papers and coming out and being in the mainstream now, but still what happens, you know?  Nothing happens, nothing can be changed, you’re always out-witted by the…the…well the governments have got all the money and they’ve got the men with sticks and guns basically when it comes down to it, and it’s hard to know what you can do and to not be dis-spirited; I imagine a lot of people feel the same, but….I know when I was young, I remember when we went out on all the parades and I’d think ‘well why isn’t everybody coming out, what’s everybody doing, why are they all at home, and now I’m one of the everybody that doesn’t come out and I’ve got to say that’s often cos I’m working, my one working day is a Saturday you know, when we’re going out playing with the band but I don’t know the answer, that’s a difficult question – I’ll think about it tomorrow, and..it’s a battle isn’t it between hope and despair?  I suppose everybody’s got the same battle and some…you can’t be in it all the time, sometimes you have to switch off don’t you and charge your batteries, and also if the answer was easy, we would surely have found it out by now you know – I mean all the people by that, you know.  But yeah, a lot of things are better aren’t they?  A lot of things we were trying to change then now have become ordinary you know, about…. Greenpeace is quite respectable these days isn’t it and I think the next generations that come up now are so much more aware than we were and that’s fantastic, you know there’s always new energy bubbling up and…so that’s great, that’s hopeful.

You’ve done your fair share of all marches then with ‘The Peace Artists’ including the aforementioned Poll Tax march, CND  marches, Greenpeace ones, has there ever been…have you ever had to choose between two marches from which to perform?

Can’t remember.

And have you stood by each march you’ve done – have you stood by it or have you gone back a few years later and gone ‘oh I wish I didn’t do that’ or have you stood by each decision you’ve made?

No I don’t think I’ve ever regretted going on a march and some of those experiences have…you know they touch you and they change you, it’s when you come out of the confines of what you’ve been brought up – your school and work and everything and you see what people are really like – no I don’t regret doing any of those things.  Although we did inadvertently end up playing, getting booked for a family day at a factory and it was a Rolls Royce factory and…this wasn’t ‘The Peace Artists’ – I’m not blaspheming for them – and it was a family day for Rolls Royce who make engines for…you know their fighter planes and we got down there and we set up at five o’clock in the morning and all the band didn’t know what it was for, and when we got there at eight o’clock that was a real dilemma of just saying ‘no I’m not doing this, no way’ and leave your band members’ friends in the shit cos you’re walking out and they can’t do the job, or whether to stay and do it, and…and I wish I hadn’t done that, we did do it and they said ‘well it’s a family day’ cos that’s a bit of a dilemma isn’t it – do you want to go and play music for those people and…that was always the thing about anti-apartheid wasn’t it – saying you should go and play in those places cos that’s the way that you can change people’s minds….but anyway we did the gig – I think it was probably because I was so tired – we were all so tired, but it was a horrible gig and it was a horrible place and I never want to go there again!

Over the years you’ve played in various bands, obviously ‘The Peace Artists’ , you’ve also played with ‘The Outer Zeds’ , ‘The Real Macaws’, you were also in…’The Last Chance Saloon Bar Band’ – is there any specific instrument you’ve played with all of them or do you change instruments with each band?

I play trombone and piano accordion, about pretty even really both of those two.  I got the accordion from a junk shop when I…when I went to the theatre group when I was a teenager and saw someone else playing accordion and I just thought it was fantastic and as soon as I picked it up I kept wanting to play it and play it and play it, and then I went and got one from a junk shop and then I…went busking, that’s what I did, I went to Leeds cos I thought I wouldn’t know anybody there, and…just went busking and that was a terrifying thing, the first time I ever did that, but I did a lot of busking and it’s a good way to…it’s a good way to learn which tunes people like and you get the feel of the acoustic you know, of what the sound sounds like as it’s going off down the road or up the corridor, and I used to play in London, and done Marble Arch---Marble Arch roundabout thingy down there – I went back recently and it’s blocked off now, you can’t walk that way.  I remember one time – I used to play with a dwarf and a bloke with no legs and it was a fantastic combination you know, because I had a pretty cotton dress on and played the accordion – we made a lot of money.

With busking, in different towns and cities, people are gonna be not as susceptible to it as others...

No it’s respectable.

Susceptible, so some people who….hard to ask this…sometimes you busk and people absolutely love you and other times they won’t, they just pretend you’re not there

Yeah definitely.

Have your bad experiences outweighed the good experiences or was it vice versa?

Well a lot of it’s what you choose to remember at the end of the day isn’t?  But it still happens now – yesterday we played, some people stop, they’re just ready for a laugh.  Often I think women are ready for a laugh and blokes are harder aren’t they?  They can’t be seen to look stupid, and they don’t know how to react and…but I suppose that’s why our band is quite robust you know and blokey I suppose and….that still happens, people will walk past, you know five people playing loud – they walk straight past, ‘I’m not gonna look, I’m not gonna look’ and that’s a shame isn’t it?  But yes, mostly, mostly a good reaction and if you get a bad reaction too much that means you’ve got to change what you’re doing quick.

At one point you played in a group called ‘The Outer Zeds’ – how did that come about, playing with them?

I had friends – they’ve played in this valley for years, ‘The Outer Zeds’ – what a great band!  And... yeah, I don’t know, I can’t remember who the horn player was before me, but the trombone player left so I went and tried out with them and it was great fun, we used to go and rehearse in the bass player’s workshop which was probably only about fifteen foot square and the noise in there was terrible, but because I was the only woman I couldn’t – I didn’t dare to say ‘could you turn it down please?’ and then after a while I found out that they were all deaf anyway, so…yeah it was a great band, and we played some great gigs with them – lovely weddings, lovely parties, and you never know what’s gonna happen with ‘The Outer Zeds’ but you can always know that you’re gonna have a good time.

They were actually one of the first bands in Hebden I watched were them. You eventually left the Outer Zeds.

Yeah.

How come?

Because…the other band, ‘The Ski Band’, started getting really busy and…and I just couldn’t do everything really, and…you’ve gotta get your money haven’t you, and the other band, I loved the other band too, but it’s always like that self-employed musician isn’t it, you never know which band’s gonna take off and which band’s not going to so you’re always juggling I think between different groups, but I still dep for ‘Zeds’ now you know, when they’re a horn short I’ll go and play with them and I’m really proud of the stuff that I’ve done with them you know, on their CD and that.  And they’ve…they had their twenty year party this summer or was it twenty-five years?

Twenty-five.

And such a great collection of people turned up, it was fantastic, and the audience and everything, it was like a proper big family and an audience of kids were there and….it was good.  You’ve got to practice having a good time in this life, you’ve got to practice dancing and singing and jumping around, but you forget how to do it otherwise don’t you, you forget how to do it and you just stay at home and watch telly and…numb out.

You’re also in a band called ‘The Real Macaws’

Yeah.

Could you tell us about that?    

That’s a seven-piece….well actually it’s a six-piece now, again with horns, sousaphone, bass, drums, we play Latin American, African, half the tunes are original and half the tunes are transposed from….probably from strange things – African bands and that, and…no singing – sorry I know you’re a wordsmith aren’t you?  So the soloists have to take the vocals and I think you have to work twice as hard to make it interesting with with…the story of the tunes, but again, great – we’ve played all over the place, we’ve played a few folk festivals – Shetland Folk Festival, Towersey Folk Festival, Sidmouth and….I don’t…you know we’re not a folk band but I suppose it’s cos we play real instruments and also that’s the actual sound that those instruments make you know, we don’t need a PA for that as well, so we can be mobile and walk around and it’s great, people really like it and again cos it’s improvising, there’s a certain structure to it so when you get to the heads or the tunes, you can all pile in with a lot of gusto and dance but the fact that there’s soloing and improvising means you never really know what’s gonna happen and that’s what keeps it interesting for us, you’re always listening to each other, see what idea’s kicking off over there and then join in and…

Musically, who would you say were your main influences?

Well I really…I listened to a lot of reggae when I was growing and I suppose Bob Marley was…I’ve really grown up with him as well, but a lot of dub and punk, I grew up with that, that’s quite an interesting combination of energy but space and rhythm, and now I listen to a lot of – I love Cajun music, I love dance music –Michael Hurley is someone I listen to a lot, American guy and Latin American.  I find it hard to listen to music in the background now.  You can’t have it in the background can you?  Your mind just engages with it

As well as ‘The Ski Band’ you are also in a cowboy based band which you formed this year called ‘The Last Chance Saloon Band’ – how did you come about forming them?

A gang of friends who all seemed to have a very similar idea and it all just came to fruition at the same time.  There are other people who were self-employed musicians or theatre people, so it’s a good gang and we got offered four gigs with ‘The Cabaret Heaven’ which is a…someone who runs a stand-up comedian show, a stand-up show, so that’s sort of what kicked it off, the four gigs, but we took to it like ducks to water and…just…it’s the idea I think of having like barn dances but…not too inhibited and neat, and more…ordinary people like us would want to go to, where you felt you could have a laugh and do a bit of free dance but couple dancing and…all that swirling about bit, so….and it’s been great, people seem to really like it so far so I don’t know if we’ll carry on and develop it further, but I hope so, and again it’s another way of getting people to…you know relax and have a laugh and have a dance and I think…sometimes you think Englishmen….no I want to stop and start again with that phrase [laughing]…Englishmen – they don’t find it easy to dance I’ve found, I don’t know why but in other countries you know, dancing is a badge of honour and it’s very….  man if you can dance good, but I don’t know why, it’s a shame it’s not so always in this country so there you are, that’ll be a happy thing, and with a bit of called dancing it’s easier for the blokes to get up, getting told what to do, although some people I know take it as you know a competitive sport and see who can barge the other ones out of the way, it’s not necessarily….what it’s supposed to be but…

I’m gonna bring a question out of the blue now, but before this interview, speaking loosely about music and you described as emotional easing fluids, would you be able to explain that concept…of that idea?

Emotional easing fluid…..yeah because…yeah well…because I’ve not had a musical training really, I’ve always learnt by ear and learnt from theatre, from putting a musical angle or a sound angle from the theatre that you’re making, and the theatre is all about getting people to feel I think, getting people to…to move people, so that’s how I’ve come in from it, and then I’ve met a lot of people, musicians who’ve been through college and they’re fantastic players and sometimes…but they don’t know why they’re doing it, and what they’re doing it for, and now at my great age I think you notice that when you’re playing sometimes and when people are listening, it’s when you let the world go, you know all your troubles…just sink them and you come back to that very thing of being yourself here and now…and…so that’s what I mean by musical – music is like emotional easing fluid, it helps you open up and cry if you’ve gotta cry, and…and laugh and dance and celebrate being alive cos it is the time of our life and…it’s…you don’t wanna be bogged down in all the troubles which are there to get you aren’t they?  So yes, that’s what I mean – that’s a phrase that just came to me and…..I think it makes you feel healthier and happier if you can play or listen and…well it’s always traditional isn’t it to have music when people come together…at births or you know in church, that’s when in the olden days people used to come together and have music and singing, and now the whole, the God thing, sort of…we’ve…we’ve thrown it all away but maybe the important thing was always the fact of people coming together and listening, and someone would tell a bit of a story and we’d all be thinking about what it meant quietly you know, not rushing around doing anything, just..thinking and….and that, so I think that I believe, I think I believe that a part of my job is to keep that culture alive, where people do get together and listen, play, story-telling, poets, you know, a lot of songs are stories, and I think that’s what keeps the culture healthy, it is that very thing of people getting together, leaving their everyday lives behind and…you know having a bit of time out and….juggling about all their innards and their emotions and feeling okay again, yeah there you are – that’s the end.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Ooh…

Do you have any future plans?

Well that’s one thing about self-employed musicians, you never really know what’s gonna happen and I think when I got to about forty, I stopped worrying so much and just thought ‘well I’ve made it till now, so probably something will happen’ but especially this time of year, you know you get to after Christmas,  you just don’t know what’s gonna happen you know, I might have three gigs in the book, so….I hope….I hope, ah (laughs)– do you know what you’re gonna be doing next year???  You’re gonna have a fantastic band and….keep playing better, playing better all the time.

To end with, you’ve….done loads of stuff – you’ve done theatre work, you’ve been in show bands, other groups, you’ve done protest marches, demonstration, the lot.  If there’s one message you could give people listening today, what would that message be?

That’s a bugger of a question mate!  One message!  [laughing] Drink heavily!  No that absolutely was a joke!  Keep dancing – gotta be that hasn’t it?

Just like to say thanks for answering the questions.

 Okay – if it will make any sense whatsoever.  Nice to meet you.

You too.

View photos and materials supplied by Ally.

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