A lot hashappened to Ten Years After since their previous studio album in 2008. Frontman Joe Gooch and original bassist Leo Lyons have quit, plus they’ve weathered the sad news of the passing of Alvin Lee, the band’s one-time guitar hero and singer. Alvin’s legacy now rests with new boys Marcus Bonfanti (guitar/vocals) and bassist Colin Hodgkinson, plus surviving founder members Chick Churchill (keyboards) and Ric Lee (drums). Thankfully the band’s heavy cross-breed of hard rock and jazzy blues is very much intact on exceptional new album A Sting In The Tale. Drummer Lee explains all.
This is the first studio album with the revised line-up.
It’s been four years since Marcus and Colin joined the band and we’re so much tighter now. We did a live album to begin with [2014’s The Name Remains The Same], to let people know about the new line-up and also because Chick and I wanted to doff our hats to the heritage that Alvin had left us. When we play live we still do the classics – I’m Going Home [their showstopper at Woodstock in 1969], Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Hear Me Calling, Love Like A Man, Choo Choo Mama.
How is the songwriting divided up on the new album?
We decided to split it four ways. Marcus became the hub. I’d go to London and write with him, then Colin and Chick would do the same. The album’s very autobiographical. Miss Constable is partly about my wife’s lawyer, Two Lost Souls is about someone I met not long after the split with my wife, and Suranne Suranne is a tribute to the actress Suranne Jones, because I fell madly in love with her. I saw her in a play in Manchester, met her and got an autograph.
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What has Marcus Bonfanti brought to the band?
He’s a terrific frontman. When Leo and Joe left, I asked Chick whether he wanted to carry on. He said: “Let’s keep at it. If we get the right people we could do a lot.” I was thinking the same thing.
We were struggling for a while, but eventually I found Marcus. He was supporting The Straits in Lichfield and had this amazing stage presence. I’d never seen anything like it. Afterwards I asked him to do demos of I’m Going Home and Love Like A Man. Two days later I had MP3s in my inbox.
Does Alvin’s shadow still hang over Ten Years After?
I think it was more difficult when Joe joined. But Marcus has worked with a lot of people – Chuck Berry, Van Morrison, Paul Jones, PP Arnold – and I don’t think it phases him at all. He was more or less brought up on the same stuff as Alvin, so there’s that same affinity with the material. And we all get on tremendously well.
That wasn’t always true of the original line-up, when there was a lot of tension within the band.
The abrasion between Leo and Alvin was one of the things that actually made it work. Our old tour manager at Chrysalis was Derek Sutton, who later became the adviser on This Is Spinal Tap. He once said to me: “Bloody hell, those two! Are they always at it like that? How do you manage?” I went: “I’m just a buffer, really.” And that quote ended up in Spinal Tap. I can’t claim that it was definitely taken from me but, let’s face it, it’s not a usual line.
A Sting In The Tale is out on September 29 via Fast Western.