A Word from Ray Laidlaw of Lindisfarne on Alan Hull, St Nick's Hospital and Clear White Light
Alan Hull was already an accomplished songwriter and performer when he took a job in the late 1960's as a trainee psychiatric nurse at St. Nicholas' Hospital in Newcastle. He originally took the job out of necessity but his experiences with the patients had a major effect on his thinking and consequently his songwriting. Alan was fascinated by human behaviour and the protocols that decide what is 'normal'. St Nick's gave him ample opportunity to observe and he composed many of what became his classic songs whilst working there. Alan was also an avid reader and was heavily into the work of Edgar Alan Poe. He read The Fall of the House of Usher during this period, sometimes during quiet periods on night-shift. Alan observed and learned from the patients and discovered that some of the most disturbed could be easily pacified by him simply playing the piano or letting them keep their socks on in bed. Following his experiences at St Nick's Alan questioned traditional definitions of sanity. He often said that sanity is an illusion, there are only degrees of insanity.
I was aware of Alan from around 1964 when I watched him perform with his then group 'The Chosen Few'. They did rather well, they had records out, played in Hamburg and had their own radio show. Following the demise of the Few Alan was in and out of groups and by the late 1960's he was having a stab at a solo career. I first began making music with him in 1969 and was astonished by not only the number of songs he had written, but also his gift for memorable melodies and thought provoking lyrics. He was truly world class... and he was right here amongst us on Tyneside. When Alan joined Lindisfarne it was a no-brainer, he found the sympathetic musicians he had been looking for and we gained a formidable front-man and composer that perfectly complemented the music we were already making. He was, and always will be, the most gifted songwriter I have ever shared a stage with.
Alan was always searching for new challenges as a songwriter, he was visibly elated when he finished a new song or recording. The last time I spoke to him was in November 1995 when he was nearing the completion of his Statues and Liberties album and he was buzzing with the excitement of it all. Unfortunately he didn't live to see the universally positive reviews that followed it's commercial release.
Clear White Light is inspired by Alan's short but intense time as a psychiatric nurse. The play places some of his songs into an exciting and contemporary drama with themes that as a lifelong socialist, Alan would certainly recognise. Hopefully the play will throw a light on his influences while also introducing his wonderful music to a new audience. I think he would have loved it.
The World Premiere of Clear White Light written by Paul Sirett featuring the songs of Alan Hull of Lindisfarne plays at Live Theatre from Thurs 18 Oct - Sat 10 Nov 2018. Find out more and buy tickets on this link.