Freelance Fiends, Growers Of Eternal Grooves.
Words and Interview: Stephanie Lynne Thorburn.
The origins of Leaf Hound take the listener on a curious tight-rope walk, balanced between 1960s bluesy psychedelia and the archetypal hard rock grooves of the 70s. Their cult album Growers Of Mushroom was canned in one eleven hour session at Spot Studios Mayfair, featuring tracks penned by guitarist Mick Halls and vocalist Pete French. The Growers album was a lyrically, musically and spiritually full- on record that got famously locked in the vaults of time, resurrected by collectors, enchanted by its legacy as a Pandoras box of surprises. At first glance, Leaf Hound would appear to be of the same stock as Zeppelin, Free, sometimes even a pastiche of The Faces, occasionally expressing a musical cliché or two. The Hound has endured remarkably well, precisely because there is a great deal more to the enigma than first meets the eye. In fact, testament to the bands cult status is their stature achieved through word of mouth as a seminal underground stoner rock outfit.
A 2005 edition of The Growers album was unleashed last year, the poetry and mystique still as rhetorically rich thirty years later, with Neil Jordan recently working the gutsy Freelance Fiend into the sound track of his latest picture. By popular demand a new incarnation of the Hound is most definitely back, headed by original frontman Peter French. Having enjoyed stints with Atomic Rooster and Cactus, he has also endured periods of down time and anonymity from the industry, but still possesses a physical presence on stage like a vocal time lord. It was indeed a privilege to have the opportunity of interviewing Pete and newly established songwriting partner, Luke Rayner on familiar territory by Camdens Underworld nightspot this April. The duo were invigorated at the prospect of discussing all areas of natural interest surrounding the renaissance of the mighty Hound.
Q: What have the highlights of the past couple of years been for you? There was a great gig last Easter when Mick Halls came down to play.
Luke Rayner: Yes that was great. My favourite gig was in Sweden though, the Kaktus festival and they were an incredible crowd. They had to have barriers in front of the stage and stewards to keep the guys back; people drunk and shouting for this and that number. In Sweden all these people had come to see us and knew all the songs we were doing.
Pete French: There were a lot of people turning up expecting to see some old guys and they were pleased to see a young band up there (including myself of course!), alive and kicking. When I first heard these new boys jam I thought it was fresh, and the whole thing has been a catalyst for a new continuation and album.
Q: What have been the main differences between working with this band now and the original Leaf Hound?
Pete French: Its very hard to say because I have the most fantastic respect for my cousin Mick Halls who now lives in San Diego and he is a superb musician. He worked on my solo album with me, he wrote on the Leaf Hound album; Mick and me have written so many things that it was a shame he married and moved away. I think we would be a five- piece band if that werent the case, because hes a very creative guy. I had a wonderful time with Mick and we worked well and now hes doing his thing and of course wishes the band well. If we get on a major tour, Im sure we would invite him in to help us out and in the interim there is nothing missing except to say the original band played as a four- piece band live. We havent lost anything, weve gained and when you get down to the writing we have tried to encapsulated the same Zeppelinesque type of riff thing, with the psychedelic Floyd feel, its very original.
Luke Rayner: Some people have said that our new songs arent quite the same as the old songs, but weve had thirty- five years of music since one album and the new one and thirty- five years of listening to different artists.
Pete French: Ive been in Cactus, Randy Pie and done my solo album..
Luke Rayner: Obviously I am influenced by everything that has come between as well, so we arent going to write songs that are exactly the same.
Pete French: The structures and underlying attitude of this band is not dissimilar, but the new songs are fresh.
Q: So, yes I do want to ask about the new album Unleashed, you are co-writing the new material I believe, how are you getting on?
Pete French: Weve done an awful lot of it, and its pretty much finished actually. There are three writers in the band, with Ed Pearson writing as well. The majority of it though is like the relationship which Keith Richards and Jagger have, where Luke and myself communicate to each other.
Q: Ive got the track listing here of the new material and Ive also heard some of the new songs live. I was particularly taken by your version of the Atomic Rooster number, Breakthrough Luke!
Luke Rayner: Yes, Id say it was even better in the studio than live because there is more chance to put more guitars on there. Every part on the original is on there but played by guitar- its a big number.
Pete French: It fits in with the band beautifully. It was one of my favourites with Atomic Rooster, its nice to be able to do it again in memory of Vincent Crane and nice to be able to show the talent of my guitar player over keyboards. Yes, its gone down well and weve just written two brand new compositions, The Man With The Moon In Him, a personal favourite of mine and the other is one that Luke conceived, Deception a lilting sort of number, Randy California almost. One thing I would boast about is that I would not like to be in a band without musical quality. I like musical composition, I like lyrical content, root musical content. The thing about Zeppelin if Ive learnt from them is that they had this quality of going up and down in their dynamics. They took blues and rock, delivering it in a nice way, like a story, not monotonous.
Luke Rayner: Actually, Im quite surprised at the stoner following we have. Ive got into some stoner bands like Orange Goblin, Fu Manchu, but would never link them to Leaf Hound and if someone is totally into stoner, I couldnt see how they would liken it to Leaf Hound?
Q: There are elements of seminal stoner music in Leaf Hound as well as Zeppelin- back to basics, quality stripped down production..
Pete French: I hope so. We tend to be riff based, not intentionally Zeppelinesque, but we have that attachment, at the end of the day, its rock and its good music. I think the fact we are liked by the stoner scene is because the head bangers can get into other hard rock acts and on our new album we have tracks like 105 Degrees, but then we like to go back to good old-fashioned music with melodic structure too..
Q: Moving onto the Roadburn Festival 2006, you will be sharing the bill with bands like Hawkwind, Orange Goblin, Brant Bjork, Witchcraft and Colour Haze. Theres every genre from space rock, psychedelic, stoner, metal to blues. The festival is quite consistent in representing bands that you have been sharing the stage with from your sector of the industry over the past few years.
What will make the festival special for you?
Luke Rayner: Roadburn, well just to be there with the big names, to be considered to be a big name as well and to get that billing with everyone.
Pete French: Hes such a modest guy and I have every faith in him! I cant wait to put this band up with the others.
Luke Rayner: You look at bands like Witchcraft and theyre great, but we stand out from all those guys as not exactly what they are.. My style especially, I do play in a bluesy, Zeppelin style, but there is a lot of Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai in there as well, things that I listened to when I was younger. I think we will really stand out at Roadburn and not in a bad way, but we have much more commercial appeal to Hawkwind; I love them but they are very niche market. What I like is rock music with hooks and I think that is what Leaf Hound is, a lot of hooks and memorable radio stuff as well, still heavy rock with signatures.
Pete French: It still has the all-important attitude in there, with colour, hooks. Were not inhibited to show what our craft is all about. To be honest, I think weve written some bloody good songs! Look at it from my point of view, Ive got so many machine gunners coming at me turning around saying the old album was a five- star, how are you going to top it? Ive got to make sure that this band collectively is going to deliver equally as good an album in the modern sense as the old one. It will be up to the public, hopefully they will see what weve tried to do, and weve put a lot of work into it!
Q: When is the new album due out?
Pete French: Well thats a good question because we financed it ourselves and weve got it mixed. The Sweden Rock Festival said that it would be great to do a presentation at Sweden Rock, (June 2006). Between the winning post and starting there is contract, songwriting, album cover design, liner notes, deal with distributor, getting the whole thing mixed to our satisfaction. So, optimistically we will try for June.
Q: Were you happy with the 2005 re-release of the Growers Of Mushroom album on Repertoire Records last year?
Pete French: I was delighted, because Luke Rayner is not only a bloody good guitar player, but he also has good ears and a mean studio. He re-mastered the whole damn thing in his studio and it wasnt the record company who re-mastered it, but this young man here.. We sat in and listened and got it just how we wanted it. The mastering on Too Many Rock nRoll Times we sent to the States, mixed and mastered and we never lost anything on the translation. Repertoire do bygone albums, and when they met me I said, I will give you a new song for the album which seems to have cultivated a whole new thing. They have a living, breathing band on Repertoire now..
Q: I notice there are new bonus tracks and some, which were taken from sessions not on the original album.
Pete French: Yes, its more fair to the buyer, the way Repertoire did the artwork was superb and Chris Welchs sleeve notes... A truly colourful, wonderful package. Very professional. Most of the feedback I get is that they really love it; Record Collector and Classic Rock have written wonderful reviews about the album, which is a complement to me and my cousin Mick and for the new band.
Q: So, where do you want to take Leaf Hound onto now?
Pete French: What I would like to do is to see the band become successfully acclaimed and be recognised for the new songs and standing on its own. On a personal note I feel that I will have really done something quite unique in the music business to come back and turn it right round and do what I should have done all those years ago, so it will be wonderful!
Luke Rayner: For me its a dream come true to play in a classic rock band and an original rock band, a band that already has a certain amount of acclaim and following. In a small way I feel part of rock history, its a really weird feeling and for me, its incredible to be here with Pete and the rest of the guys and we all get on well, its an easy feeling. The opportunities weve been given in terms of concerts and the re-release have been fantastic.
Further information on Leaf Hound can be found on their website:
and MySpace page :
*Whatever Happened to the Band?
*Vincent Crane *Carl Palmer *Nick Graham *John DuCann *Paul Hammond *Pete French *Chris Farlowe *Steve Bolton *Ric Parnell *John Goodsall *Preston Heyman *Bernie Torme