Way beyond The Implausible Man – crossing the Irish Sea with Adam Leonard and Invaderband

Prolific is the word that springs to mind when describing Adam Leonard’s output these last couple of decades. Head to his Wikipedia entry, missus, and you’ll see a stream of releases since 2003 debut LP, How Music Sounds, and he’s certainly kept himself busy with Derry-based Invaderband of late.

As his latest press release puts it, he’s ‘quietly – and noisily – tinkered at the edges of eccentric English folk, electronic music, and garage art rock with Invaderband, issuing numerous albums, singles and EPs of original music, to much critical acclaim.’

Working with boutique labels such as The Great Pop Supplement, Northwestern Recordings, Tectona Grandis, Polytechnic Youth, Castles in Space, Bibliotapes and The Dark Outside, on formats including 7”, 10” and 12” vinyl, cassette & compact disc, he’s maintained a somewhat low profile, yet he’s still managed to achieve two further Northern Ireland Music Prize nominations.

Following an Album of the Year shortlisting in 2017 for the self-titled debut Invaderband LP, and another in 2021 for Single of the Year with the gloriously spikey ‘I Won’t Remember You’, this week the four-piece were long-listed for this year’s awards with long player, Peter Gabriel, finding themselves up alongside the likes of Hannah Peel (with Paraorchestra), SOAK, and Van Morrison, and fellow corking single, ‘Cheese Slices’, for which the prize competition also includes David Holmes, The Divine Comedy, TOUTS, and Two Door Cinema Club.

What’s more, frontman/singer/guitarist/songwriter Adam and bandmates Chris McConaghy (guitar), James Cunningham (bass) and Tom Doherty (drums) have received repeat plays from BBC Radio 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq, Gideon Coe and Tom Robinson in recent times, that support replicated elsewhere in the UK and Ireland from the likes of national radio channels BBC Radio Ulster, RTE2, Today FM, and Radio X.

And as well as all the praise put Invaderband’s way for Peter Gabriel (among Danny McElhinney’s top 20 albums of 2021 in The Irish Mail on Sunday), there’s Adam’s solo electronic side-project, A Farewell to Hexes, releasing the Rendlesham album, and Echoes in Rows, his collaboration with analog synth and drum machine operative David Ansara, their Click Click Drone six-track mini-LP drawing on a deep love and understanding of late ‘70s/early ‘80s electropop, heavily influenced by John Foxx‘s 1979 electronic masterpiece, Metamatic.

But before we got into all that, I asked Adam to explain how this Manchester lad ended up in Derry, Northern Ireland, enlisting local musicians to ‘voltage-enhance his dystopian postpunk songs’.

“I was born in Manchester, in 1969, but when I was about one or two we moved. We lived in Clayton, pretty central, but my dad got a good job as a welder so we moved out to the country … well, pretty much the countryside, near Ashton-under-Lyne. And when I was older, I lived in Ashton a bit, East Manchester.

“Then in 1997, out one night in Manchester, I met my wife, as she is now. She was at university in Manchester, and was in the Star and Garter pub, where they did Smile nights. It’s still there, of course. We went back for one of our anniversaries, and there was a punk night on upstairs, featuring a band called Spunk Volcano. We’d never heard of them, but they were absolutely fantastic. Lots of Mohicans and jumping around. Fantastic!”

Well, you can’t beat a romantic night out topped off by Spunk Volcano.

“Exactly! She lived with me for a while in Ashton, but she’s from Derry and always wanted to move back, so in 2000, we moved over to Northern Ireland. Does that clarify the situation?”

It certainly does. And looking at your output since 2003, there have been a lot of releases so far. You’re clearly not one to sit back crowing about the last release.

“I love it. As people like doing sports, it’s a really keen interest of mine. I find it really satisfying. Even last night, I spent about three hours dealing with a track until it was all finished. Every spare moment I’ve got, outside of wanting to spend time with family, my wife and kids. But any spare time I’ve got …”

It’s not a full-time vocation though, Adam telling me – rather mysteriously – his day-job is as an ‘IT drone’.

“It doesn’t pay the bills. I think that would change it though, being paid. I do get some money from it, but not enough to live off. It would change it if I had to do it for money. I’ve spoken to a number of people like that, painters especially, doing commissions, suddenly losing interest in what they were once passionate about. There’s a massive danger of that.”

Regarding that prolific output, one set of releases that jumped out was 2014’s Octopus Project. I was impressed when The Wedding Present released a single each month in 1992. But releasing eight albums in eight months, that’s pushing it.

“Well, it wasn’t really me producing eight new albums – it was stuff that was either a very minimal release or hadn’t been released, and a few new ones, cover versions, all sorts. Just clearing the decks really.”

It’s a lovely idea, all the same.

“Well, I’m still doing it. There’s the Octopus Pt.10 album out next month, on October 10, with 10 tracks on it.”

Are you an all-rounder, musically?

“I started off as a bit of a folkie, big into Bob Dylan when I was a teenager. I had the acoustic guitar and the harmonica around my neck.”

A bit of busking too?

“No, never … I might do now though, to get a bit of money. Ha! One of my daughter’s friends was out busking, and within about 10 minutes was given a £20 note. I could do with a bit of that!”

Well, we’ve all got obscene utilities bills to settle, it seems. And Adam has a wife and children aged 22, 18 and nine to support, after all. He’s certainly had proud moments with his music though, not least involvement in his adopted home’s 2013 UK City of Culture celebrations.

“I was telling my daughter about that today. I sent her the song. Working on Octopus 10, I found a song from 2000 about becoming a father, written for my son. I remember a friend saying at the time it’s too saccharine and soppy, and I decided not to do anything with that. It just sat there for 22 years, then I listened to it this week and thought, that’s not bad at all. I was telling my son, who’d never heard it, sent it to him, and he came up to see me in tears. We had a bit of a moment. That was so sweet.

“I’ve since written a song for my youngest daughter, which is also going to be on Octopus 10, a great song. I also wrote one for my wife for the UK City of Culture. My older daughter’s now complaining that there’s no song written for her!”

Seeing as she’s now a music production student in Derry, maybe it’s time he got that together. And then there was soundtrack work in 2011 for Claudia Heindel’s award-winning independent film, Lucky Seven.

“Yeah, I’ve a poster of that up here in my office, with my name on it.”

Did that lead to more opportunities on that front?

“I was asked to. I did that purely for enjoyment. I was paid £50! I was offered more work, and said I’d do it, but I’d need to be paid properly … and therefore the offer went away.”

You work with a lot of other musicians too, and clearly enjoy doing that.

“I do, although when I’m songwriting I usually just do it on my own, the way I’ve always done it. But James – in Invaderband for around a year – is very keen to write collaboratively, so we’re gonna give that a try. What I’ve done a lot is people send me music and I do like a Morrissey, put words and vocals on, and occasionally the other way around, but it’s always done separately. So maybe that will change.”

As for that on-air support too, he tells me, “I’m totally amazed at that. It started with the second single in 2015. I sent a CD to Steve Lamacq and was absolutely amazed he played it … a couple of times. And all for the price of a stamp!”

The three singles from the latest NI LP prize nominee – its cover a painting of the eponymous star by Luke Haines, of The Auteurs fame, no less – certainly give a grand introduction to what Peter Gabriel has to offer, so to speak, starting with the afore-mentioned ‘I Won’t Remember You’, all Devoto-era Buzzcocks and Wire-esque new wave thrill and Graham Coxon-like charge, with a mighty chorus to boot. And like all the best singles, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Or as they put it themselves, ‘a punk-pop nugget … accentuated with razor-sharp guitars and a singular voice … cut from a strain of garage-leaning art rock that embraces idiosyncrasy and eccentricity, à la Supergrass, Super Furry Animals, or Modern Life Is Rubbish-era Blur.’ More or less what I said, from the pen of a self-confessed ‘world class forgetter’ with a terrible memory.

Then came ‘Handcuffed Man Shoots Himself’, which they feel suggests ‘an unlikely pairing of The Stranglers’ belligerence and the darker storytelling of Ray Davies … a muscular postpunk anti-anthem on police brutality, featuring minimal synth layers, brutish guitars, a pulverising rhythm section and a (he repeats) singular voice … cut from a strain of intelligent punk rock musique vérité, à la Gang of Four, Swell Maps, the aforementioned Stranglers and more recently, Blur.’

Are you getting it now? Actually, I hear a bit of Adam’s love of early ‘80s electronica in there too, as if Heaven 17 were pairing up with The Undertones. And although they clearly talk the big talk, they also deliver the promised goods on that front. As for the subject matter, while the sleeve shows Derek Chauvin, the policeman who killed George Floyd, the title is ripped from a headline regarding another disturbing case, that of a 21-year-old in Arkansas, ‘arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of police patrol car … searched twice for a weapon (none was found) … when the dashcam was (conveniently) switched off the detainee somehow managed to obtain a gun and fatally shoot himself in the head, all whilst cuffed with his hands behind his back…. or so the police officers claimed.’ And as Adam puts it, we’re talking ‘the same kind of story, a ‘one-off incident’ which just keeps happening again and again … and again.’

As for current NI 45 prize nominee, ‘Cheese Slices’ is ‘a song drenched with cynicism,’ Adam ‘taking aim and pulling the lyrical trigger onan unnamed self-regarding band, urging them to ‘Stop making music please … you’re as interesting as cheese’.

He sees similarities to the premise behind Morrissey’s ‘We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful’, and reckons it’s his ‘Positively 4th Street’, ‘but with added processed dairy squares’. Personally, I feel it also has Wire undercurrents and Buzzcocks guitar, and no shortage of melodic punk pop hooks.  

As for his latest release, his John Foxx-inspired electronica project, how long has this influential Chorley-born and bred ex-Ultravox frontman been on your radar?

“Well, I started buying records when I was 10, always liked music as a child, and when I saw Gary Numan on TV … I think it was ‘Cars’ – would that be ‘79? That was like, ‘Oh my God, what is this? Who is that alien?’

“I loved the music and even performed as Gary Numan in a primary school music show. Everyone else was doing ABBA and people like that, and there was 10-year-old me with eyeliner on, singing ‘Complex’, with a little pencil mic!

“From that I got into all the synth bands, but John Foxx’s Metamatic from 1980 blew my mind. Stunning. I still love it to this day. So that’s what Echoes in Rows is all about, trying to sound as much like that as possible, to write lyrics like that, trying to replicate John Foxx.”

How did David Ansara fit into all this?

“That material was recorded 10 years ago, but I’m just doing a release of six of those tracks now. David approached me because of the song ‘The Implausible Man’ on the first Invaderband album {their 2015 debut single}.

“I wrote that for an official Ultravox website forum competition, for an original song in the style of Ultravox, pre-Midge Ure, and it won the competition for the best original, best overall and best something else. I couldn’t get my head through the door! Because of that, David approached me and asked if we could cover it in a Metamatic style. He sent me the music, I sang over it, the collaboration starting from that, him sending me other tunes, me doing the words and singing.”

Apart from Adam Leonard, what do Peter Gabriel and Brian Alldis (the subject of the atmospheric, somewhat dark second track on Click Click Drone) have in common?

“Oooh, is there a link?”

I’m sure someone will tell us if there is. But why those name-checks for Peter and Brian?

“I love them both, and Brian is my favourite sci-fi author. I love his stuff. I remember going to the library when I was a kid, getting a lot of sci-fi out, with Brian Alldis the best by a long shot. That was in Mossley, where I grew up.”

Echoes in Rows’ Click Click Drone is clearly some way removed from Adam’s Invaderband incarnation, but certainly works, and not just for Foxx and Numan devotees, offering something of a ‘hurtling through the vortex’ return to a heady scene. Think Depeche Mode, Visage, The Human League, and more. And opening track ‘Shoot Me Like a Scene’ in particular is a thing of beauty, all that he promises on the tin pulled off, to metamatically mix a couple of metaphors. In fact, there’s not a duff track on there.

Back on the subject of the latest Invaderband LP title though, I upset Adam at this point, telling him I walked out of Crystal Palace FC before Peter Gabriel’s headline slot in July 1983, myself and a few friends only having bought our tickets to catch Derry legends The Undertones’ afternoon set, their UK farewell. We’d seen the band we wanted to, so left, feeling we’d already got our £8.30’s worth. The gate security warned us we wouldn’t be able to get back in, but we told them we weren’t bothered, still in mourning for the band we came for.

I should put that in more context. I like Peter Gabriel, and love so many of his songs, but at the time we felt we weren’t going to stick around for some old hippie (he was 33 at the time, I was a mere 15). I tell Adam this, and he sounds incredulous. I reckon he’s smiling though.

“That’s madness. I’m not sure I can talk to you anymore, to be honest.”

The line doesn’t go dead though, and we move on, me wondering if his mini-Irish tour for the Invaderband in June – playing in Dublin, Belfast, and Derry – will be followed by more live dates.

“Just one, but it can’t be announced yet.”

We’ll keep that under wraps then, apart from adding that it’s pencilled in, and will take place in Northern Ireland, for an event soon to be announced. Meanwhile, he reckons there will be more English and Scottish shows, ‘hopefully next year’. And knowing Adam’s intensive output, he could well be plugging the album after the next one.

“Erm … I don’t think the next Invaderband album will be out by then, but it won’t be far off. I’m already halfway through writing it, and it shouldn’t be up to me to say this, but the other band members are saying it too – I think it’s going to be the best one … easily.”

And who will he be name-checking next time?

“Let’s see … Elon Musk gets a mention … Jeff Bezos gets a mention … Richard Branson. All in the same song.”

The sooner they all head off in a rocket the better, surely.

“Mmm … who else? Ooh, it’s controversial, the next one. I might get attacked.”

The other three names are controversial enough, arguably. He’s still pondering though.

“Mmm … Scientology is dealt with in one song.”

A side-conversation follows, too complicated to go into here, touching on the wonders of WriteWyattUK favourites the Dubious Brothers and their on-stage dress code, our topic loosely related to the idea of rich men in space, or as Gil Scott-Heron put it, ‘Whitey on the Moon’. All that with a fella who’s been known to use Richard Avedon’s Jean Shrimpton as Astronaut in his band publicity, that classic shot namechecked in my interview with Louise Wener, of Sleeper fame, in March.

All of which led to a late-doors confession from Adam.

“I like a bit of dressing up on stage, myself. Did you see the sort of spacesuit alien thing I used to wear?”

Maybe that goes back to this love of Peter Gabriel.

“I suppose it could do really. I wasn’t consciously thinking of that, but … I’ve still got the outfit here in this room, and I’m thinking of putting him on stage, with Jeff Bezos’ face in the visor.”

Well, we heard it here first.

“Exclusive, yeah!”

Meanwhile, confirmation has yet to be received as to whether Peter Gabriel’s next album will be titled Adam Leonard. But it’s only a matter of time, surely.

For more information about Adam Leonard and his music, head to the Invaderband website, and follow him via FacebookTwitter, BandcampSoundcloud, and Instagram.

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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