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Bridging the connection between time, music, and a way of life.

Posted: June 22, 2023

Birds fly (Whisper to a scream).”  Written by Ian McNabb and produced by Hugh Jones. Label Beggars Banquet.

Love come down upon us till you flow like water
Burning with the hope of insight
Feathered, look they're covered with a bright elation
Stolen in the sight of love.

We are we are we are
but your children
Finding our way around indecision
We are we are we are
Rather helpless
Take us forever
A whisper to a scream…………

 

This was only a portion of the song that bridged the gap between decades of classics and heavy metal. It was a new decade for me and I though listening to the same sounds, artists and bands would work for me. Afterall, who knew what the 80s were going to unfold. It was 1981 and Blonde was still coming on strong. She had already proved what she could do in the mid 70s and later. Then in 1982 she came out with The Hunter. We knew that she was going to make a huge step in the 80s. Other bands would follow. On my turntable, I was still spinning records from Cheap Trick, Molly Hatchet, and ZZ Top. The Police were crushing it, along with other top bands at that time. Unknow to my ears, something amazing was happening. New Wave artists and bands were coming on to the scene. An alternative to the 70s artists was just no possible.

Little did I know. In 1983 the Go Go’s were hot. They were climbing up the charts and breaking the hearts of many of us. However, they were not even the New Wave that was happening under our noses. INXS, Pseudo Echo, Tears for Fears, Ultravox, Xymox, Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, and the list goes on. There was an influx of alternative bands that were going to change the live of us all for many decades to come. The list also includes our guest today. His name is Ian McNabb from “The Icicle Works”.

It was the song mentioned at the beginning that really grabbed hold of my ears and made me listen. It was time for a change, and The Icicle Works made it happen. Countless hours were spent listening to that song, as though Mozart had spoken to me personally. As I listened to the words, I only could define them as magical. The speed of the song was so quick, that I only could interpret it as a love ballad. Though there was something much more to it. Enough to want more New Wave artists and bands. Echo and the Bunnymen, Alphaville, Depeche Mode, Agent Orange, and more bands were to follow. I couldn’t get enough. My world had been changed for the better. It all started with lyrics from an English band called “The Icicle Works”.

I will always have a special connection to the alternative / new wave sound of the 80’s The feeling of nostalgia when I hear the songs are unlike anything you could imagine. It appears everything in the world is going to be ok. However, that is so far from reality at this point. Understand, that this is what great music can accomplish. Especially when the band or artist sing words of poetry.

I can go on and on about this feeling of nostalgia and how it correlates to new wave and alternative music. However, there is an interview that must take place. If you don’t know anything about Ian McNabb, most likely you are a frustrated person. Do not be concerned because we are going to open your world with some insight into this master of poetry.

 

ABOUT IAN MCNABB AND THE ICICLE WORKS

Robert Ian McNabb was born in Liverpool on November 3rd, 1960. An only child - the son of Patricia and Robert. He first picked up a guitar at the age of 12 after seeing Marc Bolan on Top of The Pops.

Ian joined his first band, Young World, at the age of 15; They played the working men’s club circuit for a couple of years before Ian joined another band City Lights. This band again gigged extensively around the North of England cabaret circuit, but Ian grew tired of playing other people’s songs and decided that cabaret was not the way forward for him.

He had always written songs for fun but now he began to take it seriously.

In 1981 Ian formed The Icicle Works with Chris Sharrock (drums), and Chris Layhe (bass and vocals). They quickly gained a following through their debut single release, Nirvana, and extensive live performances up and down the country.

The Icicle Works became part of the Liverpool renaissance movement of the eighties, alongside acts such as Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, WAH!, Heat, OMD, Black, Dead Or Alive, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Lotus Eaters, and China Crisis.

They signed to Beggar’s Banquet records, and under the guidance of Martin Mills scored a top 20 hit with Love Is A Wonderful Colour in the U.K ; and top 40 placings in the U.S, Canada, and Europe with Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream), with their eponymous debut album.

The Icicle Works achieved top 40 placings in the UK for all four of their albums - The Icicle Works, The Small Price Of A Bicycle, If You Want To Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Songs, and Blind - until they split up in 1988.

Muff Winwood signed Ian to Epic records in 1989, paying a buy-out fee to Beggar’s Banquet; but Muff’s insistence on using The Icicle Works name, (with new musicians Roy Corkill and Zak Starkey) when the original band had ceased to be, caused friction, and after one disappointingly received album, Permanent Damage, Ian was dropped from Epic’s roster.

Ian began a collaboration with his friend and previous Icicle Works producer, Ian Broudie - a number of songs featured on subsequent Lightning Seeds records, which became hugely successful.

 

Ian signed to Andrew Lauder’s new imprint, This Way Up, in 1992, which yielded 3 albums : Truth And Beauty (which Ian had recorded at his own expense by remortgaging his house), Head Like A Rock, which was recorded in part with Neil Young’s band Crazy Horse in L.A and subsequently nominated for a Mercury Music Prize in 1994, and Merseybeast - the latter 2 albums achieved top 30 placings; the first was heralded as “One of the best records released in Q magazine’s lifetime”.

This Way Up records ceased to be in 1997 and Ian found himself without a deal once more, so accepted an invitation to join his friend Mike Scott (The Waterboys) on bass guitar for a lengthy European and Japanese tour.

Ian self-financed another record in 1998, A Party-Political Broadcast On Behalf Of The Emotional Party, which featured Danny Thompson (John Martyn, Nick Drake amongst others) on upright bass. They toured together that Autumn to promote the record.

At the end of the decade Ian released the live disc Live at Life, recorded over two nights at Liverpool’s Life Cafe.

Ian then joined The Waterboys on keyboards for a European tour. When this was completed, Ian accepted Ian Broudie’s invitation to record on ‘The Barge’ - Pete Townshend’s studio which Broudie was currently renting, moored next to Pete’s Eel Pie complex. The resulting album - Ian McNabb - saw a return of Ian’s love of guitar driven pop/rock and was released on Sanctuary Records in 2001.

Ian briefly played bass guitar in Ringo Starr’s band in 2002.

Throughout the 00s Ian released a further 5 solo albums : Waifs And Strays, The Gentleman Adventurer, Before All Of This, How We Live, and Great Things - all self-financed and issued on his own Fairfield Records imprint to a small, dedicated fan base.

All albums were supported by extensive touring.

In 2009 Ian unleashed his autobiography Merseybeast which has become something of a cult classic amongst the rock fraternity (Peter Buck of R.E.M contacted Ian recently to tell him that he’d only just discovered the book and loved it!) - it has since been released as an audio book, narrated by Ian himself.

So far this decade, Ian has released Little Episodes, Eclectic Warrior, and Kruggerands - harder rocking albums which both feature the band Cold Shoulder ; Respectfully Yours (a long promised album of cover versions), Star, Smile, Strong, which features collaborations with Prof. Brian Cox, a co-write with Ralph Molina (from Crazy Horse), and the unexpected return of Icicle Works drummer Chris Sharrock (who had gone on to work with The La’s, World Party, Del Amitri, Dave Stewart, Mick Jagger, Robbie Williams, Oasis, and both Liam and Noel Gallagher in their solo endeavours), and most recently Our Future In Space, which once again features Cold Shoulder, and the song Aquamarine co-written with R.E.Ms Peter Buck.

 

INTERVIEW WITH IAN MCNABB AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

GT: Hello Ian. Thank you for joining Guitar Thrills Magazine today. I am a HUGE fan of yours and owe much of my love for music to bands like The Icicle Works. There is nothing I enjoy more than listening and reflecting on the sounds and lyrics of a great song. I must draw upon a quote from your Auto Biography called Merseybeast “Since the age of twelve, music has been my religion. It was what I wanted. Its’s always there for me, I’m good at playing, writing, and singing it, and it never lets me down. While, I am not a writer of music, I can certainly appreciate those words. What contributed to your love of music?

Ian: I just love everything about it. It's the greatest art form and it never lets you down. It's the only thing that never lets you down.

 

 

GT: I thought about your reference to the British Music scene being continually, myopically, you-obsessed. That was back in the early eighties. Yet, nothing seems to have changed. Having a keen insight or awareness of music culture, why do you think that is? Does youth give evidence of talent and an appearance of longevity?

Ian: Pop music is primarily the property of youth but it never leaves you. You have time off to have babies but once that's all done it calls you back.

 

GT: You mentioned that you have been lucky to travel the world and have people essentially pay to see you perform. Do you think you had the opportunity to reach your full potential as an artist? If not, why is that the case?

Ian: Yes

 

GT: Personally, you have achieved many artists hope for. Think of this mate, you have bridged the gap of music for so many people. Including me. I should have dug my way out of the seventies when disco started to become fascinating to most. I should have known that it was time to start looking forward. I should have followed the Ramones and Sex Pistols instead of vibing off Cheap Trick for so long. Don’t get me wrong they were talented. However, there is a time to move on. I think you had a purpose in mind, and that was to help music lovers to break free from the seventy’s music. Southern Rock was the theme of the day for many where I lived. Billy Squier was considered aggressive and outside the box. Congratulations on a successful career.

What do you mean by the phrase “Kill your own snakes”? If my mother were alive, she would probably be able to explain it. What does it mean, and how does it apply to your experiences?

Ian: Self-explanatory. You have to slay your own demons no one can do it for you.

 

GT: You had an opportunity to collaborate with Ring Starr. What was that like? Also how did it add your abilities as an artist?

Ian: It was great fun. I only did two shows with him - the Red Cross ball in Monaco and a charity show for Kenney Jones at Cowdrey Park. I played bass and sing. I got to play Beatles songs with a Beatle. It didn't add anything to my abilities but it's something to be proud of.

 

GT: There is way more to this book that what I could mention here in this interview. Everyone who loves music should own this book. It is a excellent read, especially if someone desires insight into the life of an artist. What contributed to the idea of writing a book at this point in your life?

Ian: I just wanted to get it down before I forgot it all or something happened to me. There's a second volume I'm still working on.

 

GT: Do you plan on performing live shows, or is there an album in the works?

Ian: I have shows booked. There is a new album on the way.

 

GT: It is apparent, that one of my favorite songs is “Birds Fly (Whisper to a scream)”. You are a poet, and it is obvious in your lyrics. What are some the thoughts or ideas that went into writing this song?

Ian: It's not really about anything but it conjures up a feeling of positivity and potency. We needed a hit and I provided one. That song changed everything for us.

 

GT: You have other songs that have made a huge impact internationally. What is one of your songs that really made a difference in your life? The one that put you over the top. Please explain.

Ian: Love Is A Wonderful Colour got us in the mainstream in the UK but it was over as fast as it happened. That was a real shock. We thought everything we did from then on would chart. Boy how wrong we were. They bought the record not the band. We built up a great live following but just couldn't get another hit. Believe me we tried. It was a real slog.

 

GT: When you started writing music, did you ever get frustrated with timing? Did you ever wonder if you were going to make it in the music industry?

Ian: We were always frustrated. I've learned to live with it or I would have gone mad.

 

GT: Would you have done anything differently if you were given another shot back in the 80s? How about life in general. Are there any disappointments or changes you wish you could have made?

Ian: Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I have some theories as to why we never crossed over but nobody really knows. You can have it all but still the big time eludes you. The road is littered. It's a lottery. It's no different to gambling.

 

GT: I really do appreciate the time you have taken to answer our questions today. I am a huge fan and will continue to keep tabs your music career. I also would like to follow up with you later, as I have more questions regarding your auto biography. There are just way too many questions that I must address with you.

Ian: Thank you. Sounds great.

 

GT: Thanks again. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

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