High Hopes: Xander And The Peace Pirates – "We want to uplift people"

Xander and the Peace Pirates band photo

Time was whena rock band would celebrate with a crate of Moët. Not Xander And The Peace Pirates. Having completed their debut album 11:11 at Wisseloord Studios in Holland, the Liverpool five-piece took a detour via Amsterdam.

“We all did magic truffles on the ferry home,” recalls frontman Keith Xander. “It’s like a spiritual experience, almost. You get this feeling of being more aware and more conscious. Our guitarist Mike [Gay] had the feeling that he was dead and that he didn’t exist, so that was quite amusing for me.”

With or without psychoactive compounds racing through your bloodstream, you’d have to agree that 11:11 is a pretty special debut. Bluesy, soulful and dusted with expert slide guitar, it’s a milestone for a band who are, frankly, due a lucky break. Watch the Pirates live and you’ll note that Xander’s virtuoso fretwork is performed with a plectrum wedged into the hook of his prosthetic arm.

“At the beginning it was a real challenge,” the frontman recalls, who was born without a right limb. “It started off with me putting a piece of broken ruler in my hook. First of all I couldn’t even hit the strings. There was one music teacher who said: ‘There’s no way you can play guitar.’ I heard that a few times. But the moment I really started playing was when I had a serious accident. I jumped over a fence into a field, and as I jumped the fence broke. I fell and was impaled on a fence post. It ruptured my spleen and collapsed my lungs and I lost loads of blood. But because I was really halted by the condition I was in, I just ended up playing guitar. I’d sit for hours listening to Hendrix and Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robben Ford.”

Another central ingredient of 11:11 is Xander’s spirituality, which he expounds today in a Scouse twang that brings to mind a Rishikesh-era Lennon. “On some level this is a concept album,” he says. “The number 11:11 represents balance, the harmony within the self. Each song is based in becoming more aware of how problems are created and how we can see beyond them together. I think music is a tool for bringing people together to create positive change.”

If that all sounds a little Kula Shaker on paper, then don’t worry, Xander has the charisma to pull it off, both during interviews and at the Pirates’ increasingly high-profile shows.

“We’ve supported Bon Jovi and Van Morrison,” he reflects, “and even Steven Seagal – y’know, the killer chef? There’s always such positive energy at our shows. You want the live thing to be almost better than the album, in a way. It’s always disappointing, isn’t it, when you go and see a band and they’re shit live? So we don’t want to be that type of band. We want to uplift people. Because I think we live in times when people need to be uplifted.”

FOR FANS OF: Johnny Lang

“Jonny Lang was a big influence – there’s an album called Wander This World that’s really nice. I’m also really into Ray LaMontagne. I used to listen to a lot of the Doobie Brothers, Zeppelin, and there’s a bit of AC/DC. I love Stevie Wonder. Prince. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Dire Straits. Cream. We wanted to keep this stuff eclectic.”

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.