Music Thursday, June 23rd

Leo Lyons: on Ten Years After, playing Woodstock, and coming to Hereford

Music Thursday, June 23rd

Leo Lyons: on Ten Years After, playing Woodstock, and coming to Hereford

It's not often you get the chance to see a survivor of Woodstock Festival play live in Hereford.

But on Saturday July 2 at the Booth Hall, you can.

Here's how:

In 1967 four young musicians from Nottinghamshire formed Ten Years After and become one of the biggest names on the world stage.

The band, consisting of Leo Lyons, Ric Lee, Chick Churchill and Alvin Lee, went on to perform at the legendary Woodstock of 1969.

You may have heard of it. Billed as ‘an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’, the festival attracted 400,000 people to a dairy farm in New York state.

On the bill alongside Ten Years After were: Ravi Shanker; Joan Baez; Santana; the Grateful Dead; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Janis Joplin; Sly and the Family Stone; The Who; Jefferson Airplane; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and headlining, one Mr Jimi Hendrix.

Small wonder that the event's still considered a defining moment for a counterculture generation.

Woodstock did wonders for Ten Years After. The band’s version of I’m Going Home appeared on both the official film and soundtrack, establishing the band firmly in rock history.

From 1968 to 1975 constant touring, saw the band play events like The Newport Jazz Festival, The Miami Pop Festival, The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, The Toronto Peace Festival and venues like The Albert Hall London, Madison Square Gardens in New York, and The Budokan in Tokyo.

It's estimated they performed live to almost four million people a year. 

Between 67 and 74, Ten Years After recorded and released ten multi-million selling albums.

In January 2014, it was announced that Lyons, along with the band’s second lead singer Joe Gooch, had left the band to form Hundred Seventy Split.

We caught up with Leo to chat about the band's forthcoming appearance at the Hereford Blues Club (July 2, 8pm). 

The breakthrough American performance for Ten Years After has to be I’m Going Home at Woodstock. What was it about that song, do you think, that helped catapult you to stardom?

The song ‘Going Home’ was a Rock and Roll medley we played as an encore and I’ve no idea why it captured people’s attention the way it did. I guess that’s the magical part.

Before Woodstock we’d already had two albums in the US charts and were playing 3,000 plus capacity venues. The festival and the movie of the event took the band to another level. We ended up headlining shows to, 15,000 to 30,000 people a night. Sometimes more.

Woodstock is regarded as a pivotal moment. What was it really like playing there?

It was one of many festivals we’d played on that particular tour of the States.

Retrospectively the gig itself was fantastic but it's hard to separate reality from the movie. On the negative side I remember the mud, no food, no sleep and sheltering in a truck during the storm.

Most of all I remember the great audience reception.

The subsequent film of the event captured the feeling of an era. Young people had their own music, culture, language, ideals and fashion. You were either part of it or against it. Despite the fact that the US and other countries were engaged in an unpopular war young people were optimistic about changing the world for the better. It was also the time of Free Love.

Musicians were being airlifted in and out of the venue. Did that include you guys?

Yes. We flew into New York from St Louis the day of our performance and drove from La Guardia to the Holiday Inn Bethel. From there we took a helicopter to the festival site.

Going in was not too bad but leaving was a nightmare. The helicopters stopped flying when it became dark and we had to drive out. There were long traffic jams heading back to NYC and no rooms in hotels locally. By the time we got back to Manhattan the hotel had given my room to someone else and I slept on a table in someone's office.

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Did you get to see any of the other acts play at Woodstock?

I only saw a couple of acts that day but we’d already played with most of them before on other shows.

Looking ahead to your Hereford show, what can the audience expect from a Hundred Seventy Split gig?

This is the first time we’ve played in Hereford and is one of only two shows in the UK this year.

Hundred Seventy Split is the spirit of Ten Years After with a different name. It’s a continuation of my fifty plus year musical career.

We play blues/rock music and our material is original songs and Ten Years After classics. I hope the audience will have a great time. That’s what we do it for.

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Did the band form to play new material?

Yes. We wanted to play new material but it was'nt just that. Hundred Seventy Split gives us the chance to push ourselves in whatever direction we feel inclined to take.

That was not possible within the confines of the current Ten Years After. I wanted to re-capture the fire and passion in the music that was there way back in 1961 when Alvin Lee and I first formed the band. To do that I had to give up all rights to the Ten Years After name and start all over again with a new band.

Hundred Seventy Split have been together now for over four years and have toured all over Europe. We are just finishing our fourth CD which will be released in November in time for our European tour.

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Who else have you got in the band?

Guitarist and vocalist is Joe Gooch. Joe replaced Alvin in Ten Years After and was with the band for over 11 years before leaving with me to start the new band. I’d say he is one of the best rock/blues guitar players in the world right now, and that’s not just my opinion.

On drums is Damon Sawyer. Damon is a one of the best drummers I’ve played with and is very much in demand for sessions and gigs. He will never be short of work and plays with many people. It’s a privilege to work with both of them.

Looking at the Ten Years After discography, the band had eight top 40 UK albums and 12 albums on the Billboard 200. Not a bad haul.

Yes, I’ve been very lucky. All of the Ten Years After albums went gold or platinum status and we’ve also had a few hit singles here and there. I’ve had a great career touring all over the world. 

Leo Edit

We’ve been watching a video of Hundred Seventy Split on YouTube, and you appear to have a smile on your face for most of the gig. Is that why you continue to play the bass?

Yes. It’s my life; it’s who I am. I love playing bass and intend to do so as long as people ask me to play or until I’m no longer able.

If someone is new to Ten Years After which album do you recommend they listen to first?

I’d choose ‘Sssh’, ‘Recorded Live’ or ‘A Space In Time’. As an introduction to the continuing story of my career with Hundred Seventy Split, I’d recommend ‘The Road’.

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