Ed Alleyne-Johnson received a special award last week from the departing High Sheriff of Cheshire Jeanie Frances-Hayhurst. At the event in the New Chester Market originally scheduled to take place in March, Jeanie said that Ed was a “very special musician” having been making music in the city for over 40 years.
” Not just from what you’ve heard tonight but from what other people have heard around the globe. Ed has had 3 million hits on YouTube , he’s performed in most European cities, in Washington Square in New York, in Haight Ashbury.. He has supported David Bowie and Bob Dylan and he been an amazing musician for so many years. It makes me very proud to recognise him. Thank you for making the music you make!
“I was born in 1959” says Liverpool born Ed. “I was a toddler when The Beatles became big, my uncle lodged with John Lennon’s Aunty Mimi when he was doing his teacher training and my Dad taught Paul McCartney and George Harrison at the Liverpool Institute, When Beatle mania took off my Dad made me a toy guitar, a replica of Lennon’s Rickenbacker, a wooden neck with a plywood body. I used to pretend to play that when I was 3 and 4.
“When I got a bit older I started violin lessons. My Grandpa played the violin during the First World War in the trenches when he was fighting against the Germans. He was gassed and disappeared presumed dead, but he turned up 6 months later and he’d lost his voice because of the mustard gas but he could still play the violin. He used to play the violin to me when I was in my cot. I inherited his violin and I played in school orchestras. I went away to university and studied fine art at Oxford. Some friends of mine went busking around Europe during the vacation and asked if I wanted to go with them. I got my grandfather’s violin, put a pick up on it and painted it purple.
Ed’s musical influences were varied: ” I was into a lot of psychedelic stuff and German Kraut rock bands… The Beatles, Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention. When I got back I started working out how to use a loop to create my own backing because my friends with guitars weren’t always around. I got one of the first digital delays that came out and taught myself how to do a base line on it using an octave panel and then improvised on the top of it. “
After playing in a number of student bands in Oxford he began busking in the street as well. Then Ed got his lucky break: ” New Model Army were recording at Richard Branson’s recording studio just outside Oxford. Then needed a real violin on one of the tracks, the producer Tom Dowd, he’d produced Rod Stewart and all kinds of people. ” A member of the studio staff had seen Ed busking in town . “I got a phone call out of the blue and they asked me to come down with my violin and do a session for them. It was the song Vagabond. Tom Dowd plonked a music stand in front of me and said “play this” . I could sight read so I just played it straight off and he was delighted with it. ” Ed offered to experiment with looping for an improvised introduction to the song. “I thought that was it, they paid me £500 for the session and that was it..”
“A couple of months later I got another phone call saying that EMI were releasing Vagabond as the main single off the album: you’re gonna have to come on tour with us!” We ended up doing a video for Top of the Pops for it and I ended up going on tour with them for 2 years. It was amazing for me , I was just hitting 30 when I joined, it was a nice age and I enjoyed it for what it was, without any pretensions of hitting the big time, I just went along for the ride. We did pretty well, we ended up headlining at a stadium in Berlin with Iggy Pop supporting us! ”
Ed had always appreciated the city of Chester. “I came here on a few school trips and did drawings of the walls. Whenever I came home from Oxford I used to pop into Chester and do a bit of busking there, that was 1981 I think. I was living in Oxford for 13 years, but I spent a lot of time in Liverpool and Chester. When I moved back to Liverpool I found I preferred busking in Chester because the acoustics were better and there was a nicer atmosphere. All of the old buildings reflect the sound very well, but in Liverpool it was mostly concrete and glass and it was too noisy. ” The busking scene has changed massively over the last 40 years he says.
” Battery powered amplifiers were very hard to come by . The one that I used I got it while I was on tour with New Model Army, I was busking in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. I saw in the window of a music shop that was run by a pair of old hippies. The one I was using was older and you had to put 8 D Cell batteries in it, it did the job but it wasn’t brilliant.” Ed tested the amp before purchase setting up on the street outside the shop to busk. “I suspect they had a gun under the till in case I tried to do a runner with it! I busked for an hour and made enough money to buy the amp! Because rechargeable amps are so common now, they’ve all got them and they’re all doing karaoke .
“Since the X Factor everyone seems to think you have to cover Ed Sheeran songs with a backing tape downloaded off the internet which means everyone sounds the same, they’re all using the same backing track. A lot of the time if you switched the backing track off it would just sound like someone singing in the shower. Some of them are good, I’m not knocking them all, but it gets quite depressing. I was in Dublin recently, and I went down the main street there and there was about 4 identical young girls and microphones and acoustic guitars, and they were singing the same songs less than 20 yards apart.
“Its a lot harder to find somewhere to play these days, you have to wait a lot longer and you don’t get as long to play. I still live in Liverpool, my partner lives in Ellesmere Port, she is part of my act now , she sings as well. We have got a couple of double albums that will be out in the summer which we’ve been recording over the last few years with the lockdowns.” Angels and Demons features new compositions by Ed, and Bewitched Girl was written by Andrea.
Ed and his partner Andrea with their Lego counterparts
Ed praised the Market. “The market doesn’t have a lot of music on yet, but it has a good stage and a PA. We love it. we come in here after we’ve been busking and we have a drink and a bite to eat and its got a lovely vibe . It reminds me of Paris! The Pompidou centre with the chrome and the metal and the coloured lights. I used to busk out there. ”
Having travelled the globe Ed struggled to think of his favourite place but Rio De Janeiro would be near the top of the list. “We stayed in a hotel overlooking Copacabana beach. We did a few gigs around there and in San Paulo, that was pretty cool. I loved living in the southern hemisphere with the moon being upside down! ” He also recalls a memorable encounter with Nelson Mandela.
“We did a gig in Madrid supporting Simple Minds. Jim Kerr came in to our dressing room to see if we had enough beer . He personally got us a couple of crates of beer. The gig was for Amnesty and human rights and Nelson Mandela was giving a speech at the start of the concert. We had done our soundcheck and put our stuff in the corridor. Before the concert I wandered backstage to check on my gear and all the lights were out and I accidentally walked into Nelson Mandela as he was waiting to go on and nearly knocked him flying! He grabbed onto my shoulder and gave me this lovely grin and then went out and did his speech to thousands of people! ”