It’s 5.30 pm on a crisp, late winter afternoon in the cathedral city of Canterbury, Kent, in 2021 where lead guitarist of Petal Falls Rob Harpum currently resides.
With the view of the sun setting over Canterbury cathedral, and the sound of evensong bells I couldn’t ask for a more relaxed environment to ask Rob questions about his lifelong love affair with the guitar and music.
How did you become involved in this crazy world of music?
Guitars were just a part of our family life, I can always remember a beaten up old acoustic sitting in the corner of the room that my Dad loved to pick it up and have a strum.
It was more a case of when I would play the guitar, not if.
I can clearly remember the first time I became interested in music.
It was 73-74 and I was 7 years old.
Top of the Pops on in the back ground as mum was probably waiting for Johnny Mathis or someone similar to pop up when out of nowhere came this Air raid siren followed by a Chunka Chunka guitar riff.
The band were the sweet and the song was Blockbuster.
I had never heard anything like it in my life.
Soon Groups like Slade, T-rex, Suzi Quatro were starting to prick my interest, music had made an appearance in my life and it has stayed for ever.
Yes, it was about the music but more than that, it was a whole package of iconography for me.
The next step was to start searching out various different bands to define my taste in music, and then I heard Voodoo Chile by Jimi Hendrix,
I was about 12 or 13 and it absolutely stopped me in my tracks.
That moment changed me forever as I went from just liking music and experimenting with listening to different artists and bands, to having an absolute desire to be part of this musical world.
I badgered my Dad for years to get me something better than the beaten up old acoustic in the corner of the room and when I was 14 he bought me a park 20w amp and a fender mustang copy.
Luckily there was a kid on the corner of my street who also had a guitar and we very quickly started a band bashing out Led Zep, Black Sabbath Lynard Skynard.
This continued for a few years with the odd school gig and birthday party thrown in.
Then around the summer of eighty two, I was working on various building sites when I bumped in the Keith Leahy our singer.
He was fronting a band named “Legacy” who I had been to see a few times.
We got chatting and he said he wanted to move away from the style of music he was playing and concentrate more on the singing and writing as he was looking to hang his guitar up at least for live performance purposes.
After a few Auditions for drummers and bassists, we eventually arrived at The Petal Falls line up we have today.
Tell us about the last album ‘All these Years’?
The new album ‘All these Years’ is actually a collection of songs we recorded quite a few years ago.
This is our second album release which is pretty exciting as the first album release has gained a whole new audience which has made this guitar player feel good!
I am sure this second one will do just the same as it is quite different.
The actual writing process was an easy one for me, as the lead singer Keith was the main writer of the material but gave me total carte blanche to enhance his work if I could, and also make my own contributions.
It was a very relaxed approach to the album with no egos interfering and stopping the flow of creativity.
As with the first Album we have tried to make the artwork and literature something that people would like to look at and read, to almost tell a story.
I personally used to love getting an album and pouring over the art work and sleeve notes.
What is the difference between ‘All These Years’ and your previous releases (or releases that you have previously performed on)?
Choosing the track listing was quite a tricky process to be fair, I never thought it would be but it’s like trying to pick which one of my guitars is my favourite.
You’re presented with about 50-60 songs and these need to be grouped together as a whole package so they sound fluid and not disjointed.
In my opinion this album showcases a darker, more thought provoking side to the song writing process and there will definitely be something in the content which will strike a chord with anyone who listens to it.
This music will make you think about things which have happened to you or others, and could cause some emotions maybe, but to me that’s what music should do to you.
Who are your musical inspirations and what was the inspiration behind the album and the songs?
As I said earlier from a young teenager I experimented with glam rock then over into the world of guitar legends such as Wilco Johnson, Steve Jones, Johnny Marr and ‘Fast Eddy’ Clarke.
All of these guitarists had one overriding characteristic and that was that they didn’t choose to showcase their flamboyancy for the detriment of the song.
Instead they concentrated their virtuosity to embellishing the melody and the lyrical content of their work.
To me, this was the signature of a true musician as it wasn’t about them and the amount of chords they could play, it was about bringing a sound and a personality to their music.
The new albums songs cover a period of years, so it is interesting to see how the lyrics and the sounds of each song are reflecting our individual experiences of life over this period.
Inspiration comes from many different aspects of our lives with love, loss and external influences so it’s a great album to listen to for reflection and relaxation.
This album I know will appeal to a large age group as the one constant in life is our ever changing moods, opinions and emotions.
There is definitely a song on this album to raise some kind of emotion in the listener and bring back a memory.
What are your interests outside of music? (try not to make this answer short, treat it like the others)
My lifelong passion has always been cooking, it has never been a chore in the slightest and when my two girls were little we spent hours in the kitchen.
I loved teaching them how to make pasta, cakes and pizzas and they still share my love of food and cooking to this day.
It brings us together on a daily basis as no matter where we are in the world, there are always food photos being shown off on our social media!
By trade I am a carpenter and joiner and I have just finished building my workshop so I am really looking forward to making my own guitars and furniture, and my girls will no doubt have me making things for their homes (which I will love of course!).
My new partner Lisa is from New Zealand and I also have family out there, so I can definitely see a long holiday to the southern hemisphere coming up soon as well.
Could you tell us about the band and what makes The Petal Falls different from other artists?
The Petal Falls were formed in the mid-nineties and we really should have released our music way before now but it was prevented from release until very recently for a lot of different reasons which is really sad given how good the performances and writing are.
Our music in the main was recorded some years ago and like any band, we of course believe it is unique and worthy of a larger audience, which up until now was denied us.
Around 3 years ago the opportunity arose for Keith to actually look seriously at releasing The Petal Falls music and this journey began.
He contacted me and we looked and listened to the recorded songs with a view to working with a couple of engineers who we had previously worked with and get them to help us master the songs ready for a release to the public.
We are very committed to releasing all of our music and even writing new material again, so that new albums beyond those already recorded are definitely a very real possibility.
We still have a lot to do but it does seem that the last album “Workin’ All Night Workin’ All Day” has proved to us that people are more than willing to listen and enjoy our music.
So now the hope is to get more and more people listen to our music and expand our fan base.
Which is hugely exciting and would be a great reward for all the hard work done so far.
What is the highlight of ‘All these Years’ for you and why?
We had a great response to the first album and we Had an even better one for this release.
Hearing the songs given a new lease of life after being left on the shelf for some years is hugely rewarding.
I suppose getting the tracks finally mastered was a big step and felt like a giant leap into the unknown as we realised we could actually be releasing our music to an unsuspecting public.(he chuckles)
Working with people that you respect and admire has been great.
Being involved with all processes like the art and PR that comes with an album release has also been very enjoyable.
And like Keith I feel that finally people will now get a chance to hear our stuff and pass an opinion on it.
Be that opinion good or bad, our music is now available for the whole world to listen to and that is a thrilling thought and justification for all the hard work done so far.
I could get definitely get to like this.
How are the live shows going and what are you and the band hoping to gain?
The Petal Falls are not currently planning any live shows.
We feel that is something for the future and once our music gains some traction and we begin to see the sparks of a real fan base that can support the Band.
After all who has heard of us right now? No one!
But we do hope that the more people get to hear our music it will change and we can look to play some live shows.
Where was ‘All These Years’ recorded who produced it and how long did the process
All of the songs for this Album were recorded at Lilac studio in Kent run by Duncan Lowe who has always been a very good friend of the band as well as our producer, Engineer and a great musician.
The previous album had tracks recorded in various different studios so this new album feels a lot more fluid in sound and feel.
The recording process was always been an enjoyable one.
Keith would normally record a bass, drum track, keys , and a rough vocal and then bring it down to the rehearsal room where we would kick it around for a couple of nights and flesh the whole thing, adding our own little bits and pieces.
Other times we would meet up at the recording studio and Keith would pretty much have the whole song completely mapped and ready to go.
Whichever way we did it we always knew exactly what we were going to lay down and did it normally in the first or second take.
I have very fond memories of Dave Richards who was without a doubt the best guitarist I have ever had the pleasure to share a stage and studio with.
Our styles were at complete opposites to each other which really suited the sound very well.
Dave came from a very Structured and disciplined stance as he had taught guitar.
I was more in the “I have no idea what this chord is called but it sounds good” camp.
The main amps we used for recording where in fact rack mounted effects processors, notably the Digitech GSP21 pro and the ART SGX 2000.
With money being tight it made more sense to really nail the tones in our own time and hit the ground running when we got to the studio.
The big guitar sounds we used on a lot of Tracks came about when we found that just power chords on their own were really not cutting it.
One of my guitars was tuned to open G and this really gave a nice spread compared to just holding a root and 5th, we then coupled this with the root and 5th on the low strings and then moved the whole thing up three octaves and blended all three tones.
We used this trick for most songs where we needed that big spread of sound.
Dave Richards was always the go to guitarist for the fiddly stuff and fretboard athletic guitar solos.
Most of the guitar parts from me were recorded on my beloved AC Zemaitis custom deluxe Metal front or a Sid Poole Custom classic , both unfortunately are no longer with me.
The title track “All These Years” is a particular favourite of mine and was great to play live.
I had written this intro in a DADGAD tuning which Keith liked and fleshed it out with some rough vocals and chords on the keyboards.
We gave the rough Demo to Dave who had this amazing gift of knowing just how to add the right amount of guitar glitz.
When it came to the 1st guitar solo I really wanted Dave to use a wha wha pedal which he had never used, it was hilarious watching Dave move his mouth in time with his left foot going crazy ape like a tremolo so I ended up working the wha wha as he played the solo.
One of the songs “Between My Brother And Me “ came about from my Daughters, who used to do Irish dancing.
I always had a guitar tuned to DADGAD as it made for a lovely Celtic drone that I could play jigs and reels on while the girls jumped around the lounge.
The opening riff came out of one of those songs which I slowed down and inverted giving it this Haunting style of riff, Up until then we had never really experimented with much in the way of studio effects but I asked Duncan the engineer how hard it would be if I played the chords and he flipped it the other way round. Similar to Hendrix’s “are you experienced”.
What’s in store for the future?
We have enough back material for a further two albums so it is going to be exciting listening back and re-mastering the old stuff with a fresh set of ears.
It’s incredible the advances that have been made in actually getting your stuff out there and we will be embracing that to the full.
After what seems like a lifetime we have started to write again and currently have about twenty songs in various stages, some ready to demo, some still just ideas kicking around in the back of a cupboard.
Also in this day and age it’s incredibly easy to just meet up online even if we are scattered to the four corners of the UK and still record in real time, still can’t get my head around it..lol.
I’m doing various other projects with different bands both electric and acoustic.
The acoustic stuff I’m really enjoying as I suddenly realised that there is nowhere to hide and this really sharpens you up as a guitarist.
One thing I really need to do is slim down my guitar collection, I did this back in the noughties but the collection has steadily increased up to 20 guitars again and one room in the house has had to be given over to cases and cases of amps and guitars.
But murder my darlings I must or they will take over the whole house!
What formats is the release out on?
Currently our music is available digitally from online store and streaming services and as a CD or USB Physical album which you can but from the website.
But it really gladdens me to see that Vinyl has made a massive resurgence.
I walked in to HMV the other day and must have spent a good two hours just thumbing through the boxes and boxes of Vinyl they had on offer.
Ultimately if only for my own satisfaction I would love to see all of our music portrayed in the beautiful format that is analog.
Thank you so much Rob for your time and sharing your thoughts and stories with us all.
Go buy The Petal Falls music here – Buy The Album