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Alvin Lee

August 2012

Nottingham’s guitar great, now 67 and living in Spain, explains why he walked away from playing 20,000 seater venues in the US with Ten Years After

I MAY be rocking in a rocking chair these days but I’m still rocking. OK, I’m not really in a rocking chair but I don’t tour anymore.
I only do festival dates these days. I like to enjoy playing and if you are on a tour, playing the same thing every night, you can become a little blase.
I played a festival a few weeks ago and it was the first time I’d played in eight months but it was one of the best gigs we’ve ever done. Everyone played brilliantly.
I’m still living in Spain with my lady, Evie. She takes care of the business side of things and organises me. I need organising.
I have a studio in my basement and it’s where I spend most of my time, until four or five in the morning. I like those hours. It’s a good creative time and there are no distractions.
Joe Brown came out to visit about a month ago. We’ve been friends for a long time. And I had my band over here recording the new album.
It’s called Still On The Road To Freedom, which follows my 1972 solo album, On The Road To Freedom.
I was still in Ten Years After. At the time but I was already looking for other roads to take.
After the Woodstock film came out in 1971 we began playing to 20,000 people in the US and I didn’t like that at all.
Before that we were playing to 3,000 or 4,000 people and I enjoyed that more. The audience were really into their music, the music sounded better and there was a better connection with the crowd.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved it at first. I thought it was cool playing to 20,000 people. It was a real measure of our success. But it’s not enough when the music isn’t working for you. In those big auditoriums the sound wasn’t very good.
And it was like you were just a cardboard cut-out. You’d go around doing the same thing night after night.
The worst ones were ice hockey stadiums. They’d put wood down on the ice but people would still get cold and the sound would echo.
Some of them were OK. Madison Square Garden was 20,000 people but it sounded and felt like a club. The audience is stacked up in front of you and you can see them all.
We did that for a good four years until our final tour in 1975 but I wanted to be more creative.
I wanted my music to evolve.
By then I was living at Hook End Manor in Berkshire. That was a big old place but I don’t miss it. Let’s say it was a folly buying that but it was the done thing back then. It was pretty much an open house; I’d wake up and find 20 people around my pool and I had no idea who they were.
After a couple of years it would just be me and my girlfriend living there. You’d be watching TV, fancy a cup of tea and it would take your five minutes to reach the kitchen.
I suppose you have to do it just to realise that you don’t really need it.
It was in my studio at Hook End Manor that I recorded On The Road To Freedom with George Harrison, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Ronnie Wood, and Mick Fleetwood.
They were mates but I wouldn’t have dared asked them to play on the album. I was too shy. That was gospel singer Mylon LeFevre, who I made the album with. He was pretty good at talking people into doing things.
So that album signified the beginning of my escape from the rock star life on to the road to freedom. I was getting away from what was tying me down and holding me back. And I’m still on that road.
I grew up in Wollaton Park. When I left school I worked at Weller Gauge, for six months. It was a light engineering factory down Clifton Boulevard. My dad got me in there as an apprentice but one day I cut my finger on a lathe. When I went home both my mum and dad said: ‘Well that’s no good if you to be a musician. If that’s what you want to do, then do it.’ They were supportive all the way.
I was already gigging by then. My very first gig was aged 13 at a cinema in Sandiacre.
My sisters are still living in Nottingham although I haven’t been back in ages. The last time was in 2004 on the last English tour I did.
How is Nottingham? Do the lions still roar when the virgins walk past?

Alvin Lee’s album, Still On The Road To Freedom, is out on August 27 through Repertoire Records. For more about Alvin go to

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