First impressions of Chris Callander are of a thoughtful, fairly reserved, courteous and very pleasant person; he doesn’t seem to be the type who would go in for exaggeration or hyperbole. Yet when you experience his musical performances, he exudes a strange power over his audience: he has a stage presence that gets people on his side instantly, draws them in and gets them to work with him. Performers almost always have to work hard to get the audience on side, but Chris seems to do it effortlessly. I’ve watched him perform his end of set anthem “Howl at the Moon” on several occasions, and every time, without fail, he actually persuades otherwise rational and right minded people in the audience to howl at the moon along with him!
On the day we talked, Chris had spent a very busy, though enjoyable day at work, with just a 10 minute lunch break. In his day job he is a senior training practitioner in a company that uses actors in the training courses it delivers, so this involves him writing scripts, researching, delivering the training courses and doing some acting himself too. Because it is a small firm he finds himself carrying out several roles himself, though he finds it very rewarding, not least because he gets to travel around the country quite a lot.
Chris is one of those rare people who thinks before he starts to talk, and he spent a lot of time in between my questions contemplating his replies. When chatting quite casually about what it is that makes human beings love music, he presented some quite astounding and profound pieces of wisdom. “People want to be moved by music,” he tells me, “We invest three minutes of our lives listening to a piece of music, and if it’s a good piece of music it can change our mood or even change our life. Human beings are hard wired to appreciate music, it’s why we sing to babies in the crib. I’ve recently been doing some work with a nursing home for people suffering with dementia; when the staff find it difficult to get residents to co-operate with something like, say for example, going to the bathroom, they sing to them – and it works! It’s remarkable how much power music has.”
When he travels he is enthusiastic about experiencing what the other great cities in Britain have to offer, and he particularly enjoys visiting London. “But I always love to come home, because Liverpool is such a special place,” he smiles, “did you know that you can buy miniature purple wheelie bins now as a souvenir of Liverpool? I think they’re somehow supposed to go with the lamb bananas!”
Originally from the Wirral, Chris has been a proud resident of Toxteth for some 12 years. “If you picked up the street where I live and moved it to London, you’d pay millions to live there. The Princes Road area is beautiful; it’s leafy, and it has so much character, big high ceilings and sash windows – I’ve even got a sky-lawn on my balcony! Plus it’s close enough to the city centre so I can walk to gigs. It suits me perfectly. Holly Johnson wrote ‘Relax’ while walking down my street so I’m in good musical company.”
Q. Tell us something random about yourself….
A. Hmmm, well I once lived in a car for 4 months! I was with a friend, we were both 18 and were travelling around in the United States, we had no money so we just travelled round and lived in the car. Eventually we met some people who gave us a job selling vacuum cleaners door to door so we were able to afford some digs.
Q. How long have you been performing as a musician? What are your earliest memories?
A. I remember playing “Little Donkey” on chime bars when I was in primary school. I was very partial to the chime bars! We weren’t a musical family really, we had a knackered old piano in the back room, we were always going to get it tuned and I was going to get lessons, but we never did either. I got this guitar when I was 15 or 16, it was a homemade electric guitar, someone’s DIY project that they never finished. It was an awful thing to play! But I plugged away at it until I could afford something decent, spent about £100 on a guitar and then I was away.
I kept up guitar until I was about 28 or so and then kind of stopped for no reason at ll really. It started to forget about me and I forgot about it. Then I got back into it 4 or 5 years ago and ended up taking it much more seriously than I’d ever done before. I’ve been self-teaching myself classical guitar, an hour each day before I go to work, and have worked my way through the grade books, though I don’t do the exams.
Q. What do you think about Liverpool’s music scene? Which venues have you played at? Which are your favourites?
A. All the bars & venues have a different feel to them, the Monday Club, the Lomax, Heebies on a Saturday afternoon. The acoustic scene here is amazing; the emphasis on original music is something special that gives it all so much vitality and life. There are so many young performers playing at such a high standard, it’s one of the things that motivated me to try and improve my technique.
Q. Tell us about your song on the album, what’s it about? Where did the inspiration come from?
A. “Howl at the moon” was inspired by Tom Waits really, like a lot of my music is. Creatively I took quite a lot of risks, but I think I came up with something quite original and I’m pleased with it.
Q. How does your song writing process normally work? Typically how long does it take you to write a song?
A. I usually have one on the go at any one time, usually I start with a bit of guitar, usually a couple of lines of lyric come pretty quickly and then I find more music. Then the rest of the lyrics take ages because I have to decide on the direction the song has to take. I’m patient with it.
Q. Do you ever work with other musicians when recording or performing?
A. I’ve got a couple of friends who help me to flesh out some of my recordings; they put some drums and bass in the songs. I tend to gig on my own though, because I can organise that, I can pick up my guitar and get out and perform without having to plan or consider anyone else.
Q. What are your music influences? Do you have a favourite decade? Or genre? Do you have a role model?
A. Tom Waits is right at the top for me. He is the whole package; his songwriting is sublime, he tells wonderful stories full of rich characters, his use of lyrics and melody are amazing, and so are the sounds he generates from the various instruments. He gets me emotionally too. People want to be moved by music and Tom Waits does that for me.
Q. What for you makes you listen to a song? Lyrics or melody?
A. Usually I suppose the melody and music draw you into the lyric. Hopefully, if it does its job properly the lyric should then be something worth getting into. Though sometimes it’s the opening lyric that grabs you, a powerful opening gambit can make you to listen to the rest of the song.
Q. Are there any songs that make you emotional? Laugh or cry?
A. It has to be Glasvegas’ first album, I’m an emotional wreck all the way through!
Q. What is your proudest moment ever?
A. Musically, what makes me proud and happy is when I play a ballad and the room goes quiet and everyone listens, or when I get the whole room howling to “Howl at the Moon”!
When the City of Music collection was compiled we thought “Howl at the Moon” should be the end of set anthem, so it appears as track 13 on disc 2, to get all you listeners howling! Howl here https://soundcloud.com/chris-callander-1/howl-at-the-moon-mixed
To find out more about Chris Callander and his other work click here https://www.facebook.com/ChrisCallanderAcoustic
To get your copy of the K’s Choice City of Music 2013 Compilation click here https://kschoiceacoustic.wordpress.com/the-city-of-music-2013-compilation-album/