Takes Two to tangle in Tākaka – in for the long haul with Tim Allen

Adding 11 hours to UK time to set up an interview when trying to work out the best options for both parties can create headaches. But technological advances eventually meant my chat with Lancashire lad turned New Zealand resident Tim Allen proved relatively painless.

In fact, I’ve had more problematic connections talking to Yorkshire-based interviewees.

While his home nation waits for the green light to live music again, Preston born and bred singer-songwriter Tim is getting along just fine in his adopted country.

Part way through a tour to promote latest single, ‘Love is a Pill’, he’s been out on the road on and off since March Fest in Nelson, South Island, making up for an earlier brief grounding after NZ Premier Jacinda Ardern made relatively light work of the coronavirus pandemic compared to her UK counterpart.

Tim’s teamed up with Music Planet to offer all ages matinee shows on afternoons of scheduled dates where the nationwide chain has music shops – playing 11 evening shows and six matinee acoustic sets in all. It’s a fresh approach, the venues chosen as far apart as Bar 605 in Auckland, North Island, and The Dog With Two Tails in Dunedin, way down south, which I make around 1,000 miles.

“We’ve done all that, then go back to Nelson (a sell-out at The Boathouse) and Tākaka (the Mussel Inn in nearby Onekaka) to end the tour, having added a few more as it’s New Zealand Music Month. But I’m working during the week, then doing that … and it’s killing me!”

Tim works as a builder and carpenter to make ends meet. Did he head Down Under with that trade behind him?

“Yeah, I did an apprenticeship. Music doesn’t always pay the bills, so I’ve something to fall back on.”

Is the word ‘tour’ a bit grand? Let’s face it, you must be up and down the roads of North and South Island most weekends.

“Well, we’re doing a big tour – aeroplanes, all that. We got funding from the New Zealand Music Commission to help pay for flights and that, which is pretty good.”

I couldn’t have seen such levels state sponsorship and national support back in the UK if you’d stayed in Lancashire.

“No, I don’t remember anything like that!”

The route he’s taking has me feeling nostalgic about my past world travels in the early and late ’90s, right up to his big finish. But then what? Is he recording another album?

“Yeah, we’re in the process of trying to do that, around two or three songs in, writing at the moment, and we’ve signed a distribution deal in Asia. I also run my own little label, Rubber Soul Recordings, helping me access funds for recording and releasing material, including some of my Dad’s stuff, soon as the tour is finished.”

He credits his Dad, Simon Allen, for introducing him to The Beatles, so Rubber Soul Recordings sounds a perfect name. And Tim followed Simon’s path to an extent, in Dad’s case mostly playing gigs around Preston.

“Until recently he was doing gigs down at Muldoon’s and the like, with a pub band. He was also in Fat Lad’s brother, who did quite a lot of touring, and before that Moscow Philharmonics in the ‘80s, playing The Marquee and all that.”

Tim is based just outside Auckland’s city centre. Has he plenty of work around there coming his way in the day job?

“Yeah, too much! I don’t want it – I want to do music! Since Covid, it’s all gone a bit weird, but the building industry is booming, and has been for 10 years.”

The new single, produced and engineered by former bandmate Ben King, is perhaps one of his more grungy moments, with hints of INXS for these ears, something I guess will go down well.

“Hopefully. When we play it live, people love it. I just got the riff and me and the drummer wrote it together in the rehearsal room. I was thinking more Black Sabbath. That’s what went through my head. And every time we play it, people say, ‘It’s a bit like the Black Keys.”

The All Black Keys, maybe. It’s certainly a mighty riff, and I get the feeling that’s a potential opening track on the new record.

“Probably, but we don’t know yet. We’ve just finished another. I put a monthly showcase on at Bar 605 in Auckland, and it’s owned by the bass player of Six60, a massive New Zealand band.”

Recognise that name? They were all over the news after selling out 50,000-capacity Eden Park, home of the All Blacks, a major celebration for a nation that famously clamped down early and kicked coronavirus into touch.

“They made history. They also played Western Springs twice before that. They’re now the most successful New Zealand band ever, even more than Crowded House.”

Are you a fan of Te Awamutu’s Neil Finn and his band?

“Massively. Really, it’s a bit weird that I live over here now. My Dad’s a massive Neil and Tim Finn fan, and Neil’s got a studio in Auckland, Roundhead, where I’ve done a few sessions.”

Did you get to see them on their recent NZ tour (again, a nation showing off that they haven’t got Boris Johnson in charge, methinks)?

“I didn’t. It’s one of those things – you wish to see them all your life, then when they’re on your doorstep, you can’t get there!”

Incidentally, Tim also sang recently on ‘Clear To Me’ by TheAfter, alongside Eddie Rayner, who featured in NZ national treasures (and Tim and Neil Finn’s breakthrough outfit) Split Enz.

As for the new Tim Allen and the Two single, what’s the outlying message to ‘Love is a Pill? Pensive post-Covid thinking that the best remedies get us through the most severe tests, perhaps?

“Yeah, definitely!”

Talking of deep questions, who are the Two? As far as I can tell, Tim Allen and the Two is just you and your drummer, fellow English ex-pat Freddie Green, who was with The Dirty Youth from 2014 to 2018, and also tour-manged much-touted Reading outfit The Amazons..

“It’s just a name really, but we sometimes play as a three-piece. We also played the first gig in March Fest, but the name’s just a bit of a joke really.”

A bit like successful ‘80s outfit, the Thompson Twins, who had most of their success as a three-piece, with Auckland-born Alannah Currie a key member?

“Erm … someone was asking about them a while ago actually.”

I get the impression from that response that they were before his time, leading me to ask Tim how old he is. He confided that he’s 40 in a few weeks, adding ‘but don’t put that in’. Don’t worry, Tim, your secret’s safe with me. Moving on, how did he end up working with Freddie?

“He’s got quite a background. He’s from Andover but was in The Dirty Youth, from South Wales. When Marshall, the amps people, started their own label, they were the first signing, around four years ago. He was also a tour manager for The Amazons, and like me, he moved here. He worked at a music shop and I was in Hangar 18, who did a lot of touring in Asia, with their guitarist his manager.

“We met at a gig. We were a similar age, we got on, and when I needed a band for my album release – my previous band were doing their own thing – I thought I’d give him a shout, knowing he played drums.”

Was that previous band the ones with you on the ‘Low Man’ promo video?

“Actually, those were some guys I knew from the pub really!”

Well, they looked the part.

“Yeah! They’re good lads.”

I’ve only recently caught up on Tim’s back-catalogue, and deduce from what I’ve heard that he should be a lot bigger. There are some cracking singles there, from the brass-tinged radio power pop of ‘Place to Lay My Head’ and The Coral-like indie of ‘Low Man’ to a more plaintive Chris Isaak meets David Gray poignancy on ‘Ghost’ …

“Ah, everyone loves that one.”

 In short, he’s no one-trick pony. There are lots of styles in there, and he has a great voice.

“Well, I’ve been chipping away at it for a long time. I recorded that first album in Preston in 2011, but only released it in 2013 when I came over. I guess I’ve just been writing songs for a long time.”

Was the brass on that first track mentioned – from his debut LP It’s All About Time – down to producer Alan Gregson (best known for his work with Cornershop and Russell Watson) at West Orange Studios?  

“Yeah, it wasn’t the original West Orange down in Ashton. He built a studio at his house. That was fairly new then, near The Saddle pub. But Alan lives in France now.”

Did you study music in college?

“I left school, failed my GCSEs, then went to Newman College in Preston, studying music production and doing GCSE resits. But I got chucked out – l had something ridiculous like 98% attendance for music but single figures for the rest of the subjects. Then I did an apprenticeship, one day a week at Preston College, doing a joinery apprenticeship.”

Tim had formed a duo at high school with best friend Kurt Czarnota, and was writing songs by the time he was 15, their duo The Little Kings going on to release two EPs and play on the Manchester and Liverpool circuit. At one stage he became a circuit regular – not least as a solo artist – at venues like the Academy 3, Night and Day, Late Room, and the Roadhouse. Does he miss all that?

“I do, definitely. Actually, I went back to the Night and Day when I came back to England, playing a gig. And there’s nothing like all that.”

As a solo act, acoustic shows followed around London before his New Zealand move. Are his first Kiwi band Stormporter still together?

“No, we did two singles then went our separate ways, but we’re still in contact, and Tony Thorburn did the graphics for our albums, singles and posters. And he suggested Ben King.”

Ben, also with Goldenhorse and Grand Rapids, went on to produce Tim, as well as feature in his studio band alongside Pluto pair Milan Borich and Matthias Jordan.

I gather the video for ‘Ghost’ was filmed in level three lockdown in Henderson. Is that where you live?

“It’s not far off, a few minutes’ drive away, where the guy doing the video was. It was a nightmare really – I just got the album together, the publishing company wanted to do a big campaign, then fucking Covid came along!”

That was the splendid The Last Bastion of a Lad, released in June 2020. Did the lockdown ultimately help or hinder that LP’s progress?

“I think it hindered me, playing-wise, although we did manage to get a little tour in. That’s when I first started playing with Freddie though, so that helped – we sparked up a musical relationship. And it did well on the streams.”

What’s it like to be in a nation where the Prime Minister seemed to get it all right regarding reacting to the coronavirus pandemic?

“It’s brilliant. Most people love her, and I think she’s great. I met her before she was Prime Minister. She was campaigning and came into my son’s pre-school. I’ve a picture of me, my son and her.”

His son, Jackson is now eight, a ‘full-on Kiwi’, his name down to his grandma’s maiden name (don’t try and hack his bank account – that won’t work) and ‘the fact I was listening to lots of Jackson Browne at the time’.

Tim’s currently working, via Zoom, with UK-based songwriter Henry Priestman, of The Christians fame. And there’s a man with an impressive CV.

“Yeah, he wrote a lot of Christians songs and was in a band called Yachts who toured with Bowie, The Who, all sorts.”

How did that alliance come about?

“I just asked him! I sent him The Last Bastion of a Lad, and he liked it. His latest solo album did quite well here. It’s actually a Christians song he was working on just before he left, and it’s now going to be one of my songs.”

If you type in ‘Tim Allen’ on computer search engines and song services, you tend to drift between your songs and live routines from your American comedian and actor namesake. Does that work both ways, with those looking for the other Tim Allen finding you?

“I don’t know, but there’s actually a third Tim Allen out there. Recently, with my music distributed via The Orchard, part of Sony, it goes to this other guy. I’ve tried to contact YouTube, but it’s impossible. He’s got all my music on his page. So yeah, there’s a third imposter!”

I’ve got news for you, Tim – I found one more when I looked for you on Instagram (Tim’s proper links are added at the end of this feature). You might have to add a middle name.

“I should have done that right from the beginning. A bit late now!”

Is ‘Different Shore’, which opened the last LP – imagine Paolo Nutini fronting Thin Lizzy, and you’re not far off – you being a little homesick?

“I think so, but I actually wrote that in my Dad’s house at Preston. I came home for 12 weeks after splitting with my son’s mother. I had visa issues and didn’t even know if I was coming back to New Zealand or where I was basically. A long time ago now though.”

Just taking a few great songs from that LP, ‘Get Out Clause’ is more Joe Jackson but with early Paul Weller type gruffness; ‘Won’t Let You Win’ – one of three singles on the LP – has a Doves-type vibe, but perhaps more crossover and should be a hit; and ‘Searching’ is arguably your take on Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’, with added sax. All of which seems to back up my earlier argument about a wide variety of influences.

“I don’t set out to write a song in a specific genre. I just write a song, see what comes out. I’ve been writing with different people, and the producers you work with bring their own stuff, so everything evolves. A bit of variety!”

Silly question maybe, but what made you swap the delights of the North West for North Island, New Zealand? You went to London and it didn’t quite work out?

“Sort of, but I was doing alright in London, although a bit stale. I was living in Camden, loved it, and was dating a Kiwi girl who wanted to go home. I weighed it up, decided to try it. That’ll be 10 years this November.”

Are you a full citizen now?

“Last week my residency came through. That’s a massive weight off my mind. Work visas are a nightmare, but I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Did it help having the building work behind you, rather than being a roving musician?

“It did, but a lot of the stuff was down to my music, going through the Music Commission and that.”

When are you returning to the UK’s different shores (pandemic resurgences willing)?

“I don’t know, to be honest. Hopefully Christmas, but I can’t do the three weeks in quarantine.”

And you don’t want them stopping you get back in after being with the ‘unclean’ here.

“Ha! Well, I am going to Raratonga for my 40th. I’m just looking at flights. They’ve just opened a travel bubble in the Cook Islands.”

Rub it in, why don’t you, Tim. You’re clearly loving it there, and living a bit of a life.

“Yeah, trying to … and keeping out of trouble.”

Is ‘Love is a Pill’ a good example of what we might get on the new LP?

“It’ll be a bit of a mixed bag, I think. The next song we’ve done with a new producer. It’ll probably be a mix of Ben King and Chris Mac, the bass player of Six60. The last one had Ben play bass – he’s also an unbelievable bass player – and we let Chris produce it, and he wants to do the next one, but he’s so busy at the moment, an in-demand producer.”

And when you’re on the road these days, it’s not just a case of being stuck in the back of a van, it would seem.

“No, we’re flying most places, although I drove one leg of the tour.”

Sure beats tackling the M6 and the M62.

“Yeah, although once you’ve been on 30 aeroplanes, it gets a bit boring.”

My heart bleeds for you … but I’m looking forward to the next record.

For more about Tim Allen and the Two, head to Tim’s Facebook page, hop over to Spotify, check out his YouTube links, follow him via Soundcloud, and Instagram, and also check out www.freddiegreenmusic.com.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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