There are certain groups and artists who we identify from the aural get-go. The names of – in no particular chronological or creative hierarchy order – say, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Pink Floyd spring to mind. There may be some kind of common denominator behind all the aforementioned but the last two iconic acts, at least, share the lesser-known fact that Alan Parsons was highly active behind the scenes contributor to some of their best-known work.
Parsons, now 70 and about to come here with his troupe to join forces with the full Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Heichal Hatarbut, Tel Aviv, June 4, 8 p.m.), has been around a long time – half a century to be exact. He got his big break in January 1969 when he landed a job as an assistant engineer at the Abbey Road Studios. That was shortly before the Fab Four gave their last public performance, an impromptu appearance on the roof of the headquarters of the band’s multimedia corporation Apple Corps on Savile Roy in central London. “I was there,” Parsons notes happily. “Unfortunately, I was behind one of the cameras, so I don’t appear in the film footage, but there are plenty of photographs with me there.”
That must have been quite something for the youngster who was to go on to work with a dizzying roster of A-lister pop and rock acts, such as Pink Floyd, The Hollies and Al Stewart, before becoming better known as one of the two principal progenitors behind The Alan Parsons Project, which had a string of hits, such as “Eye in the Sky,” “Damned If I Do” and “Time,” between the mid-1970s and 1990.
“It was unbelievable for me,” says Parsons. “I’d been a huge Beatles fan, and there I was, walking into a room, at Apple in central London, with all four Beatles, the girlfriends – Yoko and Linda – and George Martin and Glyn Johns, the engineer. I almost had a heart attack,” Parsons laughs.
He may have been an ardent follower of the mop-top lads from Liverpool, but in fact, his earliest musical recollections include sounds of a very different nature. His mother was a folk music harpist, although young Parsons was drawn to some of the less commercial contemporary vibes. “My mother did traditional folk,” he recalls. “I think I became more involved in what you might call folk-rock – the Al Stewart, Ralph McTell, John Renbourn, Pentangle – that kind of folk blues movement. That was very much the style I started to pick up as a guitar player. John Renbourn was my hero. He is still fairly unknown in most circles, but in the blues clubs of London, back in the ‘60s, he was a huge name.”
Renbourn was one of two guitarists in the Pentangle supergroup fivesome, which also included bassist Danny Thompson. “Danny actually played on my first album [Tales of Mystery and Imagination],” Parsons says. “He played on a tune called ‘Pavane,’ part of the ‘Fall of House of Usher Suite’ on the first album.”
IT TOOK Parsons some time to step out from behind the console, and cross to the other side of the recording studio soundproof window. That was facilitated by a fortuitous encounter with Eric Woolfson, who was to share the helm of the Alan Parsons Project. “We first met when he was a session player. He was given a synthesizer and piano session with an artist that I fail to remember.”
Parsons immediately felt he and multidisciplinary Scottish songwriter, vocalist, executive producer and pianist could do the business together, and make some headway in the industry. “I sensed he had enormous knowledge of the business. We talked about the fact that I’d already had some success as a producer, and had little to show for it. Eric suggested he become my manager. It started purely as a business relationship and then the creative stuff and writing songs together came later.”
It may have taken a while for Parsons to make some hay, but he and Woolfson certainly found a formula for sustained success. Then again, Parsons fails to see the thematic side of the Project’s output. “I have never understood for the Alan Parsons sound is,” he declares. “I just do things a certain way, and follow my instincts, and everybody says, oh that sounds like Alan Parsons. I really don’t know why.” Parsons expounds on his indefinable line of thinking by noting the changes in personnel his troupe has experienced over the years. “It seems to me extraordinary, with a number of different singers that I’ve worked with, that they still identify the sound of all those various singers with my name. It’s very odd to me.”
Naturally, the man behind the creative process is fully entitled to his learned opinion. Then again, millions of fans across the world over the past four-plus decades have happily lapped up the sumptuous swirling and velvety Parsons oeuvre which takes in 13 studio albums and a bunch of compilation sets, much of which lends itself to an orchestral setup. “I love playing with an orchestra. The Israel Philharmonic is a fine orchestra, which is world-renowned. I am sure it’s going to be a great show.” Longtime colleague and pianist, Tom Brooks, will serve as conductor for the evening.
Understandably reluctant to announce the full playlist for the Tel Aviv date, Parsons did, however, reveal that there will be several tracks from his latest release, The Secret. And it won’t be solely a greatest hits run out. “We have a wonderful opportunity to play some of the songs we wouldn’t normally play without an orchestra,” Parsons says. “That will include “Silence and I,” one of the big songs from [hugely successful 1982 record] Eye in the Sky. We might do ‘Ammonia Avenue’ [title track on the band’s 1984 release]. So many of the big Project songs are orchestrated, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to reproduce that orchestral sound in a live situation.”
For tickets and more information, call *8780 or *3766, or go to leaan.co.il or ipo.co.il.