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ROLLINGEXILE – Interview


Interview with Charlie Hallinan of ROLLINGEXILE and Pete Devine of Pete’s Rock News and Views (http://petesrocknewsandviews.com)

PETE:  How would you describe yourself as an artist?

CHARLIE:  Quite simply ROLLINGEXILE is a mixture of rock and acoustic rock with a little bit of a Celtic twist.

 

PETE: How did you actually start playing in a band?

CHARLIE: When I left school, I really had no idea what I was going to do, I’d never really got into playing an instrument properly. I played a bit of guitar, just a couple of chords. So, in my gap between going to university I worked in a restaurant in Dublin called Captain Americas, it was like a Hard Rock Cafe and lots of actors and musicians working in the restaurant coming and going. During that time two of the guys I worked with in the kitchen who were seasoned musicians Pat Courtney and Ak Kennedy and they said, “Hey, we’re putting a band together called Sacre Bleu and you can be the drummer” and I said “You’re joking! I’ve never played drums in my life!” they said “Aww, you’ll be alright”

So I took lessons from Johnny Wadham who Larry Mullen (Jr) from U2  also took lessons from. Larry and I would often meet each other coming up Johnny’s  garden path, either he’d be just leaving and I’d be arriving or vice versa and we’d give each other a little nod,  but no words exchanged {Hahaha] as Berlin and U2  we were in competition with each other, and as we had a record deal and they didn’t at that time.

We were signed to Charisma Records, which was interesting as Genesis was one of their bands , and we didn’t think we would be the type of band they would be interested  in , but hey it’s a record deal and we got ours before U2 did.

In those early Dublin days Berlin supported the likes of The Clash, The Jam, Graham Parker etc

PETE: Can you tell us briefly about your background – i.e., where you’re from, how you came to make music, etc.

CHARLIE: Well, I was born here (London) and then Dublin grew up there from the age of 3.

Around 76 I got into the business playing with several bands and in 78 I joined my final band Berlin.

From about ’76 until about ’79 Dublin was a huge melting pot of new bands coming out of the woodwork.

The Dublin scene was inspired by what was happening in London, with The Sex Pistols and all the rest of them,  Berlin and U2 were tipped by the Irish music press as the two main up ‘n’ coming bands at the time. The ones to follow the path led by The Boomtown Rats and Thin Lizzy for international recognition. We did a lot together actually (with U2) playing the same venues in Dublin and later we went on an Irish co-headlining tour together and there was a point on that tour where Larry injured himself and I  was asked to finish the five or so shows as U2’s drummer, as we were in the middle of the country and they didn’t even have time to get a session drummer in, our manager, Pat Moylett brother of Johnnie Fingers in the Boomtown Rats agreed that I would do two shows a night, with U2 and Berlin, God Almighty I was knackered at the end of that.

Then we went to London, there was a big  Irish music festival called “The Sounds of Ireland” showing the best up and coming Irish bands and established artists like Rory Gallagher topping the bill and it had all these other ‘unknown’ up and coming bands at the time like Berlin and U2 and funnily enough when we did our London show U2 were support to us on the night.

PETE: So how did the change from drums to guitar/frontman happen?

CHARLIE:  Just before the breakup of Berlin we were due to go in and record our first album, we’d previously released the single [Over 21} which got to number 1 in Ireland and surprisingly, it did really well in South America, which is pretty bizarre. I think it got into the top 50 or 60 in the UK.

We recorded the single 6 months previously in Wessex Studios in London where The Pistols recorded Never Mind the Bollocks , at the time of recording the single Iron Maiden were recording demos in the studio next to us.  but we split up before we got to record the album

 I left Dublin due to a friend of mine, Robbie McGrath who is an international Live sound engineer, he’s worked with The Stones, Tina Turner, ACDC and every band you could think of over his career. And he said “What are you doing?” cos he knew the band Berlin had split up. So, I said “Nothing” and he said “Well, come up to London, I’ve got a gig for you, it’ll be great.” So, I said “What about my drum kit?” and he said “No, you won’t need that, there’s a ticket at the airport for you, just get over to London by tomorrow afternoon” I said “Oh, okay, are we hiring a kit?” and he said “No, there’s no drum kit.” and I said “Well what’s this gig?” He replied “as a roadie.” I nearly lost the plot, I said “McGrath are you taking the piss, I’m depressed enough at the band splitting up, we had roadies working for us and now you’re asking me to come over to London and be a roadie? Okay, I was being a bit of a prima donna. But when he told me how much I was getting paid a week I thought, great…okay I’m on my way

So, I ended up doing that for about 4 years and during that time one of the guys, Matthew Ashman guitar player with Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow, we became great friends over the times we toured together. Back in London, in a break between tours he heard a couple of my  half assed demos that I’d put together and to my surprise  he said “Do you know what, I’d like to take you into the studio?” and he did. We put down 2 tracks and sadly I never had the Master Tape and the cassettes that I did have are God knows. Somebody somewhere has one, but it’s a shame.

From that point onwards I still didn’t really do anything musically. I left the music business and  got involved in photography and became quite a successful ‘Rock Photographer’ (don’t ask me how)

 I worked for a lot of magazines, great jobs like being sent out to Ibiza to do a feature on Judas Priest and then I’d go and photograph Nirvana at Reading or Aerosmith or Whitesnake at Donington etc. I was going all over the place. So, I did this pretty successfully for about 8 or 9 years.

Then in 2010 I got a phone call from Garry Roberts (The Boomtown Rats) who’s a mate and he said “Hey, can you put a half an hour set together?” I said “What are you talking about?” and he said “Well, we’re going on tour to Germany and the support band has pulled out.” and I said “Are you out of your mind, I haven’t played for about 20 years, and on top of that I’ve never performed as singer/guitar player?” He said “Ahh you’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.” So, I said “Okay, on one condition, you supply the chicken wire?” He said “Chicken wire??” I said “Yes, Bob’s Country Bunker as in The Blues Brothers”

I did the tour as a solo artist under the name ROLLINGEXILE.

So that’s what got me back into it, that was 2010 and I recorded the first album Exile in 2012. Exile was produced by Robbie McGrath  and co produced by Alessio Garavello which was all done just mostly with just myself and Alessio playing all the instruments on the album. Robbie McGrath played drums on several tracks and Marta Tarre slide guitar on Mistreated. I also had Pat Courtney, my old bandmate from Sacre Bleu on bass and a great Irish keyboard player Peter Fitzpatrick on keys. Also I had final guest Garry Roberts Boomtown Rats on guitar for Deep Down.                               

 My intention was to carry on as a solo artist but after the album was finished , but then I realised it needed to be played live with a band which I finally put together with Marta Tarre and Miranda Gonzaga in 2013 and that was the start of ROLLINGEXILE.

PETE: I notice that you have kept a core base of musicians since the Exile album, Alessio Garavelo   Producer/Engineer/Mixing and Mastering) Miranda Gonzaga (Drums), Federico Bianco (Guitars),  and you always record at Rogue Studios Wembley. Is this a set up that you obviously feel safe with? I was wondering what your thoughts on that was?

CHARLIE: Yeah, well to be honest it’s not a question of feeling safe, although there is an element of that, although to a point you’re right. But that safety element is more to do with the fact that I know that I’m gonna get the quality, the product at the end of it and not only that he (Alessio) really understands, er, when I say something, he’s very intuitive, he just seems to know exactly what I mean and we work well together. There’s an old saying in life ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and other people might say “Oh you should try a different producer, you’ll get a different sound, a different approach” well, there is an element of that, but there’s no reason why I can’t get a fresher approach with someone that I trust. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t stick with somebody through hell or high water, purely for the fact that I was afraid to try somebody else, I’d be quite happy to try somebody else, but it works for me.

The other thing you touched on, the constant personnel changes in the band after the Exile album which is why it took so long to get a live band together.

 So, we had bass and drums sorted, but lead guitarists, I don’t know how many we went through, until eventually, nearly 2 years later Federico was the guy ,  again, it was a bit like with Alessio, it just worked , His playing became more intuitive in relating to the songs  and has a natural feel of and style of a Lizzy rock guitarist like Robertson or Gorham when called for.

Rory Smith on Drums Joined the band in 2017 and fitted in strait away, followed Leonardo Landini on bass in 2019 completing a great rhythm section.

Back in early 2019 Miranda left ROLLINGEXILE to form her own band The Isle of Everything

Miranda was the only original surviving member from the 2013 band line up , she was incredibly supportive and contributed so much as a drummer and a bass player I wish her all the best and I’m sure she will do well with her new band.

 

PETE: Who and what inspires you to make music, both in terms of musical and other influences? What do you like to write about in your songs?

CHARLIE: I think what inspires me would be going back to my Irish roots, Phil Lynott had a huge influence on me. I don’t mean that my music’s similar or I write like him , but just really respect him as an artist. Rory Gallagher is another one. Just these were the guys that you listened to when you were growing up. And I’ll mention Horslips as well, maybe not as much, but they were in the mix. I also liked Led Zeppelin, The Stones , Free  , Creedence Clearwater Revival , Hendrix, Clapton

What inspires me to make music is…it’s because I’m a performer and I don’t mean it in an ego way, but there’s something inside that you just want to get out there and perform and if you’re gonna perform, you want to write something that’s worth performing.  

When I left the music business I sold all my guitars I stopped playing for over 10 years, one day I decided to buy an acoustic and started playing again, I started with covers from various artists like Van Morrison Eagles etc, this was purely for amusement or occupational therapy Hahaha.    

But I did start to learn without realising the way songs were arranged and structured , which was a great insight into how good songwriters put their songs together. I don’t mean I’ve learned the art of song writing but it was a great education and has been of great help down the line.

I don’t  write to order…I mean I can, it would be easy to write ‘bubble-gum pop or rock’ , but to me the song will be average, there are many writers out there that do that, and that’s fine  but to write songs with meaning you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to feel it. Don’t try and make it happen.

I think like with any artist you’re never really happy, even though you’ve just written your best song, or done your best performance, you know, you’re glad you did it, but you’re still striving for better with the next one…   it’s a hunger. You just want to get the one song, the one performance where you think “Ahh great, I’ve blown myself away! that’s where I was trying to get to.”  But I don’t think you ever get there. But that’s good, it keeps you hungry.

As for what I write about, I don’t sit down and say “I’m gonna write a song about… heartbreak or happiness  I never do that.

 I might hear just a snatch, a couple of bars of something,  coming out of an open widow walking down a street, I wouldn’t even know what it is, but there’d be something in that melody line that suddenly triggers something and when I get home, I’ll bang out a few chords on the guitar and I’ll just record them on the phone it could be like 10 seconds worth , I’d go back to that recording days or weeks later and work on it some more , and the new song develops from there

The same can happen when I’m just playing around with a few chords and the basics of a song will come together, again I will shelve it and come back to it days or weeks later, I guess I just find a root in something and develop it from there. I must have hundreds of phone recordings waiting to be revisited , will I ever get round to it?  Hahaha.

I never write the lyrics first its I always the music, I’m driven by the music. It’s not through thinking what this song is going to be about, or what the lyrics are going to be, none of that. The music is the first stage of everything I write. I’d just have the complete song, the chords and then I’ll put in what you call ‘scratch lyrics’ which could be anything, you just throw it down, as long as it rhymes or syncs and I’ve always done it that way. 90% of the time I leave the original scratch lyrics. I think they’re scratch lyrics, but they’re obviously coming out of my subconscious and they work  

 

PETE: What are your aspirations as an artist?

CHARLIE: To keep touring and performing, it’s very simple. I don’t have any aspirations to be the greatest whatever, but just to make a living out of it and keep playing. It’s like a lifeblood the performance and I love touring, I always have. When I was a roadie, we used to tour America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and it was great, just seeing the world. It was hard work, but great

 

PETE: Promoting one’s music is such a challenge these days, especially with so many new artists emerging from bedrooms in the day of the home studio. How is that going?

CHARLIE: My preferred set up for recording is pretty simple, I use Logic, and I have an 8-channel audio interface so I’ve got plenty of inputs for instruments. It’s a very simple set up. And there’s a couple of decent active monitors, and  a couple of studio vocal mikes, a Yamaha 12 channel desk which I don’t use very often cos you can do most of it on Logic.     

I used this setup in Lockdown  , because we couldn’t rehearse together, so what I’d do is I’d put the whole track together, drums, guitar, vocal and then I would be sent to Federico, lead guitar, he would record his bit and then on to Rory, Drums and Leo, Bass and cos these are Logic Project files you can have as many tracks as you want. So, it’s a bit like recording together. Thankfully we are now able to get back into the studio, we got more done in 2 three-hour sessions in the studio then we did in about 8 months in Lockdown.

 

PETE: And how do you book and promote your live shows and tours? Any performances coming up?

CHARLIE: Well, my manager, Peter Scharfen, over in Germany does all the booking and promoting for the band in EU. Peter works incredibly hard for the band and has a very unique and original style of management , a good manager is as important as any member of the band .  

I look after the UK end with booking media etc

As far as performances coming up  .. due to Brexit our touring schedules are in tatters at this moment in time We hope that this situation (caused entirely by an arrogant dishonest UK government) , will be resolved by pressure from various high profile musicians and campaigns. We will wait and see.

 

PETE: What is the proudest moment in your music career so far?

CHARLIE: There’s 2 or 3 really, but I’d probably say the most recent which was playing the Duisburg Festival in 2019 towards the end of our tour and we played to one of our biggest audiences. We were the main support to the headline act Ray Wilson which was great. The others would be getting the tour with The Boomtown Rats. The other would be the signing with Charisma Records when I was in Berlin.

PETE: What do you think about downloading music online? What about streaming sites like Spotify?

CHARLIE: Well, I’m not particularly crazy about Spotify, but it’s kind of a necessary evil, like a lot of other things, cos if you’re not on these things…with the competition this day and age and the way that the whole digital music world pans out, you really have to be on everything. It is what it is. It can give you a bit more exposure and so many people use it. There’s an interesting thing, I have a distributor, like just about every band has and I use the distributor to help us. So, I upload the album and then they send it out to Amazon Music, Apple, Google Play, Tidal you know, all these different platforms and Spotify, funnily enough, out of all of them, is the one where we get most exposure from. So, like I said, it’s a necessary evil.

 

PETE: What song do you wish you’d written and why?

CHARLIE: You’ll probably find that this is a strange one, but it’s a song called “Say It Ain’t So” by an artist called Murray Head.

 

PETE: Murray Head? I’ve met him, it was after a performance of Chess in the Prince Edward Theatre London, 1985 or 86.

CHARLIE: He’s such a nice guy. Actually, you know that call I had when Berlin split up and I was sitting in Dublin doing nothing, you know when Robbie McGrath calls me. Well, that was the very gig, that was the very first tour I went out on. 8 weeks in France in large arenas including 6 weeks at La Olympia. And we kept in touch for a while after the tour.

 

PETE: Great song, I remember it covered by Gary Brooker and Roger Daltrey.

CHARLIE: Yeah, there’s quite a few covers. It’s just a great song, there’s so much emotion in it, I guess it’s the way that Murray puts it across

 

PETE: Is there anything you don’t like about the music industry, which you would change if you could?

CHARLIE: There’s nothing really I could complain about, you know, it is what it is. In fact, if I could change anything, I’d change it back to the way it was. I don’t mean the rip-off managers and sometimes shady record labels. But change it back to the way it was when people had to go out and physically buy the thing and not have these charts that are done from downloads or whatever.

I suppose my answer is, it’s a different world now, it is what it is and it seems a lot more soulless, everything is so digitised now. It’s all media orientated.

To try and get away from the digital over produced slick recording methods , when we went in to record the last album, I had a meeting with Alessio, I said “Right, we’re going back to the ‘70s!” and he said “Ok how do you mean?” and I said “Well, very simple, there’s going to be no miking of the drum kit with 9 mikes, there’s going to be no this, that and the other. We’re going to walk into that studio, the drummer and the bass player are going to go into a room and will play the rhythm track together. The drum kit is going to have the Glynn Johns drum 4 mike setup mikes.” And he goes “That’s okay.” And we definitely got a more earthy or live sound on that album and I’m hoping to further that on the fourth album which we’re gonna be starting in late September.

That’s what we’re doing at the moment, we’re just trying to get into rehearsal studios and bash the tracks out. We’re already done 8 tracks in those 2 sessions.

 

PETE: As long as there isn’t one called Lockdown.

CHARLIE: Hahaha  I know what you mean, no, there’s no reference to Lockdown, I wasn’t going to jump on that bandwagon Yawn :]

 

PETE: So, what are you working on at the moment?

So at this moment in time, we’re in the rehearsal studios and knocking the final tracks  for the fourth album into shape We’re already done 8 tracks in two rehearsal’s and its going well , one of the band is going on holiday at the end of the month, another member is on tour in Switzerland, so basically, nobody’s back until the end of August, which is fine , and I’m hoping then to start mid to late September. The idea is to get all the tracks ready now, obviously there’ll be changes when we get into the studio, just minor ones, but it saves studio time because everybody’s prepped, they know their part, they’re happy with what they’re playing. Cos like Rory the drummer is still working on what pattern he likes on each song, he’ll try different beats and fills etc, and that’s what we’re doing at the minute. It’s the same with Federico guitars and Leo bass working on their parts..

 

PETE: Where can we learn more about you and buy your music/merch online? 

CHARLIE: Simple answer www.rollingexile.com

 

PETE: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, it’s been great. Have you any final words for the people out there?

CHARLIE: Let’s hope we can get out and play live to our audience’s again soon, who have given us such great support over our previous tours, and give them a great show, they deserve it :]

ROLLINGEXILE links:
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