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Holloway Echoes – Project Emily Interview

todayMarch 25, 2024 1

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With their fourth album Project Emily just released, we talk to principal songwriters Alan Wilson and Pat Winn about how the unique Holloway Echoes’ sound began and why the band’s success still surprises them – Words Craig Brackenridge

Since 2019, The Holloway Echoes have been creating a fiercely individual brand of British rock’n’roll that conjures up images of angry Teds, Commer vans and school dinner ladies. Their trademark kitchen-sink nostalgia also contains traces of skiffle and music hall, tipping its hat to the back catalogues of Joe Meek, Lonnie Donegan, The Kinks, Joe Brown and Chas & Dave at the same time. For a band who have never played live and only came together as some kind of happy accident, their output now stands at four studio albums and a quartet of 10″ mini-LPs featuring selections of their music.

This distinct sound is largely based around the writing partnership of Pat Winn and Alan Wilson. Pat has been in rock’n’roll bands for years, most recently with The Pat Winn Combo but previously with outfits such as 706 Union Avenue, The Jumpstarters and Run Devil Run. Alan Wilson was a member of early psychobilly legends The Sharks but is probably best known these days for his role as the man behind the Western Star record label and it was here that both musicians first met and The Holloway Echoes’ story began.

Image © Russell Dewing

WESTERN STARS

“It was on my bucket list to go to Western Star,” explains Winn. “I managed to get a session booked in and had four songs that I thought were presentable – three I thought were not too bad and one that was a bit iffy. It was the last one that Alan picked up on. I remember his chair swivelling round and he said, ‘That’s about Joe Brown isn’t it?’”

The song, New Boots, made an instant connection with Wilson. “I just thought I can I can really relate to that,” he remembers. “We instantly kind of clicked on that basis and The Pat Winn Combo did three albums for Western Star.”

TRIBUTE TO CHAS

It was the sad passing of Chas Hodges in September 2018 that eventually led to the band’s creation as Alan explains: “When Chas died I was absolutely devastated as I had been working with him quite a lot. I wrote the song There’ll Never Be A World Without Chas Hodges and thought the person who should sing this is Pat Winn. I rang him and he said, ‘You know what? It’s really weird but I’ve written a song about Chas as well (Rock’n’Roll Songs Come Easy).’ I said, ‘Right, that was meant to be. Come down, we’ll do both songs’ and that’s how The Holloway Echoes started.”

From this session the journey towards the band’s debut album, Murder In Soho, was set in motion. “We did those two tribute songs but I never dreamed we would make a whole album,” says Alan incredulously.

“We had such a great session, the vibe in the room was wonderful. So we said we should do this again and that’s how that LP came about. I never dreamed there would be four albums. The songs just kept coming, I couldn’t stop writing and it was the same with Pat.”

Image © Russell Dewing

FARTING ON PARADE!

Songwriting is usually split between Wilson and Winn with other contributions from the rest of the band – and for everyone it is a brand of material that would not really fit in any of their other musical projects. Even they seem surprised at what manifests. “Sometimes it amazes me,” exclaims Alan. “It’s almost as if the songs come out of the ground, they just appear.”

“It wasn’t like a concept,” Pat continues. “It was like, maybe in The Holloway Echoes we can write a song about this and you couldn’t write that in any other band. On the new album I’ve got a song about farting on parade! Where else are you going to do that?”

UNIQUE PROJECT

Along with the songwriting, piecing the band together for this unique project was also a shared responsibility. For Alan, drummer Ben Turner was a natural choice. “I have been working with Ben since the 80s in numerous guises – he’s like the Clem Cattini of Western Star,” smiles Wilson. “He’s also a writer and comes up with some great song ideas.”

Nick McNulty is a guitar teacher and veteran of many bands, including The Pat Winn Combo, and he brought an added bonus to The Holloway Echoes. “The instrumentals are all Nick’s,” details Alan. “He’s a blinding musician and a multi-instrumentalist. On every album he’s done one or two instrumentals and played all the instruments. We just let him loose!”

WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE

Pianist Cliff Hall completed the line-up and brought with him a wealth of experience that still dazzles Pat and Alan. “That’s just ‘pinch yourself’ territory because I’d known who he was since he played on the Cliff Richard and The Shadows reunion concert at the Palladium in 1978,” laughs Winn. “I’d done a few gigs with him in a reformed line-up of Rock Island Line and found out he also played with Lonnie Donegan, Bonnie Tyler and even The Goons.”

“You could write an article on Cliff Hall alone,” enthuses Wilson. “He’s played with The Bay City Rollers… he was in the Top Of The Pops house band, on Olivia Newton-John hits and even played on Joe Fagin’s theme from Auf Wiedersehen Pet.”

DISTINCTLY BRITISH

With this line-up in place their debut album appeared in 2019 and the material continued to flow. In 2020, their second LP Stack ’Em Up was released and their third, A Long Way From London, followed on in 2021. This blueprint of distinctly British songs from a well-seasoned band unrestricted by genres appeared to be working. “When I put that first Holloway Echoes album out I thought ‘no one is going to like this but I like it’,” says Alan. “But it sold out and the feedback that we had from it was incredible. It didn’t feel like a gamble but, looking back, I guess it was. It’s one of those weird things where I can’t explain it, other than I haven’t given the general public enough credit for being broad-minded.”

Winn shares a similar explanation for the band’s warm reception: “That’s probably one of the things that’s surprised me most, maybe that’s what The Holloway Echoes’ music is – anyone’s allowed to like it. It’s a guilty pleasure.”

Project Emily

That may have been the end of the story but now new LP Project Emily has landed with more tales from the past including the life of pools winner Viv Nicholson, the naughty goings-on at Cynthia Payne’s house of pleasure and the chilling placement of nuclear weapons on British soil that gives the album its title. It appears to be business as usual but this still seems something of a surprise to the band.

“We finished A Long Way From London and were thinking that’s not a bad effort coming from two songs initially,” ponders Pat. “It was only  a week later that Alan said ‘I’ve got a new idea’ and I’d had something random happen or had seen something and I had a few ideas, too.”

PROUD PROJECT

For Wilson, Project Emily represents something even more meaningful: “When The Sharks finished I just thought I would concentrate on recording other people, that portion of my career is over, and then along comes Pat, Cliff, Nick and Ben and suddenly we’ve got another four albums of our own material. It’s been a complete bonus and a complete surprise.

“I can’t listen to anything I’ve done but I do listen to The Holloway Echoes and I’m really proud of it.”

While each album may be their last, what is it exactly that seems to give The Holloway Echoes such an enduring appeal? Danny Dare, wall of death rider and Holloway Echoes guest artiste, seems to have nailed it. “He described us as ‘a bunch of middle aged blokes reminiscing about their childhood,’” laughs Alan, “and I guess he’s right!”

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