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Aled Clifford, Henry's Funeral Shoe
Interview by Will Bray, photos by Stewart Power

Lots of us are more than aware of Alive’s great signings, it’s a long list of pure, raw and hard rocking blues artists that includes, The Black Keys, Two Gallants, recently released Left Lane Cruiser, Black Diamond Heavies and so many more. Now for the first time Patrick Boissel has reached across the boarders of the U.S to the Welsh valleys and found himself a couple of brothers who are simply stomping their way into the Alive hall of fame. I had a chance to catch up with Aled Clifford, guitarist and singer of Henry’s Funeral Shoe.

WB. How did you start out and how did you end up forming Henry’s Funeral Shoe?

AC. I started out playing acoustic solo gig’s because there wasn’t anyone into the same music in my area. I finally found my way into a few bands but kept up playing and writing solo. My last band experience was very different to the others. I was hired as a session player but decided to join as they we’re working with a great producer (Ian Grimble Travis, ‘The Man Who’, Manic Street preachers, ‘Everything Must Go’, studios 2KH and Abbey road). It was a challenge musically for me. The band was more “pop” than I’d been used to and the producer would spend hours on the arrangements. I certainly learned a lot but after too many broken promises and motorway miles I decided to give up and go back to playing solo.

My brother being ten years younger than me and full of enthusiasm kept pestering me to jam with him after his band came to an end. I finally gave in and after a few sessions it ended up being the most fun I’d had in years. We wrote about three songs and the “Shoe” was born.

WB. What are the key musical influences behind Henry’s Funeral Shoe and what inspires your song writing?

AC. Well, as a teenager I was obsessed with Peter Green, totally obsessed, my wall was littered with pictures of the old Fleetwood Mac also  Robert Johnson and Ry Cooder. I wasn’t really aware of much else for a while but then the flood gates opened, I would spend all my money on albums, everything from Randy Newam to Public Enemy.

My brother is a Who nut. Not much else really. The Who and Deal or No Deal!
The songs come from anywhere. There’s never one thing that inspires a song. Sometimes it’s a riff that happens in practice, sometimes it’s a feeling, other times it’s an idea you actively peruse. I do have about eight note pads that I write in. Most is rubbish but sometimes there’s something in these that’s worth using.
For me Henry’s Funeral Shoe was born out of my frustration and my brother’s enthusiasm. I hope that comes across in the music.

WB. What are your favourite places to play and the most memorable show you’ve played?

AC. The best places for us to play in Wales would be Brecon, Aberdare and Cardiff. We have a great following and people sing along and dance. You can’t ask for more.
We played some great places on our tour of Holland with The Legendary Shack Shakers and certainly learned a lot form them. They have Duane Denison on guitar, he’s amazing and played with some great people.

I think our most enjoyable show was in a place called Zwolle. We did an in-store and a gig in a venue called Eureka. Everyone knew the words to our songs, very surreal. The people we’re amazing.

WB. Is there a strong music scene in Wales?

AC. There are some great bands in Wales but I think the scene is only strong in as much as emo is popular. There isn’t much call for a band like us.

WB. Getting signed to a thriving, niche label like Alive Records must have been very exciting, how did it come about?

AC. After all my bad experiences with labels and such things I had no desire to be label chasing although I was aware of some of the bands on Alive, I certainly wasn’t aware of them as a label. After we’d recorded our demos my brother went ahead looking for labels without me knowing. He spoke to Patrick at Alive through Myspace who said he liked our stuff but didn’t want to sign us because we we’re a two piece and they had plenty of those. Patrick encouraged us to try to maybe find a bass player but we explained that we we’re a two piece because we’d been let down too may times by band members in the past and this was the most productive way for us to work. After hearing the MP3’s he decided he’d like to sign us

To be honest we’d only been together 6 months and we didn’t even have enough songs, so we worked at writing new ones and re-working songs that’ I’d been doing in my solo set. The album is a mix of old and new songs because the band is still in its early stages.

WB. Tell us about how and where you recorded your album?

AC. We rehearsed like hell for about two weeks and recorded the album in a couple of days. Most are first takes, three at most. We wanted a raw, live and exciting sounding album which I think we have achieved. It’s a bit naive because the band was so young but that’s ok.

WB. How do you see the future of the British record industry, what do you think is affecting it and what do you think is benefiting from it?

 AC. I’m not sure what the future is for any record industry, British or otherwise in the digital age. The record companies put the blame on illegal downloading but they’ve failed to put long term investments into bands for years. The most important word in the music business is business, but if you don’t invest in a business it fails. Gone are the days of five album deals, maybe it is run by business men and not business minded men who love music. I think EMI is now run by people who owned Dettol, what do they know about music? They know everything about business but not music. So, instead of having a big selling artist/band which would have helped fund the lesser known, like say in the 70’s, you don’t seem to have that now. So they keep investing in a sure bet and it’s all very boring.

I feel being signed to a little label like Alive is really special as they have a dedicated fan base of people who truly love music and are willing to stick by the bands they love and give them the opportunity to grow and change or try new things. If you’re with a major today you’ve got to be a hit straight off or your back out the door.
So maybe indie’s are the way forward because people actually buy albums, but having said that the Legendary Shack Shakers found some of their songs on a torrent site, and that’s really heartbreaking when you consider they don’t even have a label and spend 8-9 months on the road.

The internet has been the best and worst thing for the industry. Bands like us get a chance but then people get music for nothing and presume if you make music you should do it for the love and for free. But not all of us want to live like Rod Stewart. Some of us just want the opportunity to get our music out there, pay the bills and that takes money.

WB. How do you see the up and coming blues movement in Britain and how do you see Henry’s Funeral Shoe fitting in to it?

AC. For me the blues has always been there, it’s always been cool so I’m happy if people are getting into it more. I see us fitting in fine but I don’t want us to be doing the same thing again on the next album. Henry’s Funeral Shoe is a long term band, we need and will progress.

WB. What’s the best album you’ve heard this year and what are you listening to at the moment?

AC. I don’t have a favourite album of the year because I’m never really up on what’s out at the moment. I’m the uncoolest hip person I know. I stumble across stuff from friends and maybe magazines. I’m listening to Arthur Alexander & Immortal Techniques at the moment. It’s all amazing stuff.

WB. What’s the best thing for you about Henry’s Funeral Shoe and what you do?

AC. The best thing for me about being in Henry’s Funeral Show is the uncomplicated nature of it, just the two of us. After years of band members not turning up for practice or letting you down last minute at gigs because they can’t find a plectrum, this is pure uncomplicated bliss. Practice at 6…… see you there. Result. Everything is simple and we set out to please ourselves but the fact that people are enjoying it is unbelievable.

WB. What dates and tours do you have coming up?

AC. We’ve had a gig for Radio 1 in Wales in January then it’s a six week tour through France, Holland, Germany and Switzerland in Feb-march. Many dates are still being confirmed and there will be some shows with other Alive bands so that’s really exciting.

WB. What’s next for Henry’s Funeral Shoe?

AC. Next for us is the tour and spending hours on the internet and telephone trying to get gigs and festivals in this country. We should have a song available for free download sometime next year and maybe some videos. Fingers Crossed.
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