James R. Turner Talks To David Palfreyman and Nicholas Pegg about ‘Decades’

A chat across the Decades with Nicholas Pegg and David Palfreyman.

Further to James’ review of ‘Decades’ he sat down with Nicholas and David to talk about the album and quite a lot of other things:

How did you two meet & where did the idea for ‘Decades’ come from?

Nicholas Pegg: David and I have known each other since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Or possibly longer. We can never quite remember exactly when we first met, but we know that it was something to do with a certain TV show that we both loved as kids.

David Palfreyman: Yes, Nick and I met through our mutual admiration for Doctor Who, back in the grainy, 16-millimetre days of the mid-1980s. I was running a Doctor Who fan group at the time, and I think that Nick may have come along to one of the meetings.

Nicholas Pegg: Or else we met at a Doctor Who convention somewhere, queuing up for Jon Pertwee’s autograph. Wherever it was, we’d have been about 16 or 17 at the time. Just two teenage Doctor Who fans, our memories now lost in the vortex.

David Palfreyman: It remains a mystery, waiting to be uncovered in a long-lost compartment of the mind. Actually, that’s a great idea for a concept album!

Nicholas Pegg: Ha! But getting back to your question, the idea for ‘Decades’ came initially from David. He’s the songwriter on the album, and he came to me one day with a pile of demos, and he asked me if I’d like to write a story to link the songs together. And three years later, here we are. Essentially, Dave wrote the songs and I wrote the story, but that’s a bit of a simplification. It was a very organic process from start to finish – we both creatively interfered with each other’s work in the most positive way, so the end result is a true collaboration between the two of us.

You have a fantastic cast of musicians, singers and actors involved, were the parts written specifically for the actors, or did you have the story in mind before you approached the individuals?

David Palfreyman: The basis of the story was already there before any of the actors and the majority of the musicians came on board. The whole thing then blossomed, grew and branched off in all directions, achieving different bursts of energy and sunlight as it went along on its journey.

Nicholas Pegg: That’s a lovely way of putting it! Yes, the initial ideas were in place before we started thinking about specific artists, but by the time I was actually writing the script, I certainly had some of the actors already in mind. When I’m writing dialogue, I often find it helpful to imagine a particular actor playing the role, just in my head – it helps to create a consistency of tone in the character you’re creating, even if you later end up casting a completely different actor. But on this occasion, we were lucky enough to attract the actual people I’d imagined, which was a fantastic bonus. I wrote the main part of Kelver Leash very much with David Warner’s voice in my head, so I was thrilled when he said he’d like to do it. The same goes for Jacqueline Pearce. I absolutely wrote that part for her, so again it was a magical moment when she said yes. I knew I was writing for Richard Coyle and Edward Holtom as well. The other actors were simply a case of getting the casting right, and fitting the right people to the right parts. Exactly the same principle with the musicians – fitting the right singers to the right songs.

What inspired Kelver’s story?

Nicholas Pegg: I suppose there are countless inspirations. We came up with a lot of detail that you don’t hear on the album, because the scenes themselves are deliberately impressionistic. It was always our intention to create something quite nebulous and elusive, which we hope will resonate with the listeners’ imaginations. Dave and I know the full story – or rather, we know our version of it, but we’re very happy for people to bring their own interpretations to ‘Decades’. It’s not as if it’s a crossword puzzle with a single correct solution. What’s that line from Douglas Adams? ‘What we demand is rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!’ I love that. As for the story itself – well, I wrote the script, but right from the beginning Dave already had the basic notion that he wanted a story about a man looking back on his life.

David Palfreyman: My initial idea behind ‘Decades’ was actually an idea for a short film I had been kicking around for a few years. A guy who has everything, a great life full of beauty, vibrant colour and conversation. However, cracks begin to appear, and the ‘reveal’ at the end is that he is sitting slumped in a stupor surrounded by empty wine bottles and takeaway wrappers. A damning juxtaposition to the glorious life he had been daydreaming about. Now of course, ‘Decades‘ has not ended up quite like that, and it has far more depth in storytelling since Nick came on board, but that was the spark that lit the flame. I’m not really sure what inspired that, but maybe I was writing about myself.

Nicholas Pegg: I was certainly writing about myself in places. Not in a direct autobiographical sense – ‘Decades’ is certainly not the story of my life, that’s for sure – but in terms of certain philosophical ideas that interest me, and certain preoccupations, and things that trouble me, and things that amuse me too. Some of what unfolds on ‘Decades’ is quite close to home, so it’s been lovely when people have come up and said that a particular line or a particular scene strikes a chord with them. Gosh, I’m making it sound terribly po-faced. Some of the subject matter ‘Decades’ is pretty grim, but I think it’s actually quite a funny album as well. You’re allowed to laugh!

Are you pleased with the reaction the album has received?

David Palfreyman: We have had some amazing reviews, quotes and accolades from all over the world. Websites, online magazines, Record Collector, people posting on the album’s Facebook page, and even the Irish Sun newspaper! Long may it continue. Absolutely wonderful stuff. Yes, we are chuffed to pieces.

Nicholas Pegg: Yes, people have been very kind. A lot of love has gone into ‘Decades’, so we’re thrilled that it’s getting such a positive reaction.

Nicholas – as an actor/writer, is moving into working in music something you always wanted to do?

Nicholas Pegg: All my life I’ve been dipping my toes into the music world in one-way or another. I’ve written song lyrics for theatre shows, and I play a couple of instruments, not with any great virtuosity, and I’m a pretty decent singer. I’ve sung on stage professionally on many an occasion and, as far as I know, nobody ever asked for their money back! I’ve also been heavily involved in writing about popular music for a long time – among other things, I’m the author of a great big book about David Bowie. So music has always played a big part in my professional life. But you’re right, in terms of actually co-writing and co-producing a rock album; this is new territory for me. I’ve loved every minute of it. Another great treat has been directing the videos for ‘Decades’ on location and in the studio – what a joy. I’ve directed plenty of other stuff before, but never a music video. The first day on location with Sarah Jane Morris and the crew for ‘We All Fall Down’, I was like a little boy with a new train set. Pure delight!

David, did you have the musical ideas before Nicholas got involved, or did the songs come together as part of the story?

David Palfreyman: When Nick first started to work on the drama segments, I think I initially sent him around 15 songs or so. And as Nick kept working on the script, I kept on sending new songs. I can’t remember how many tunes we eventually had in the ‘pool’, maybe 30 or 40, but I thought it best for Nick to choose which ones would fit within the story, as otherwise I would have used everything. It would have been a triple album! Giving Nick the final choice of track listing worked really well, as the songs fit in with his script seamlessly.

Any thoughts of performing ‘Decades’ live?

David Palfreyman: We are about to perform two songs from the album with Jessica Lee Morgan, one of our vocalists, in a live session for the Vintage TV channel. We’re recording that in November. As for performing ‘Decades’ as a whole – oh yes, I would love to do a stage version of it. In my mind, that’s always been the plan. Followed by a film. We managed to get the album done, which has been a huge undertaking. Anything else should be a piece of cake!

Any plans for a sequel?

David Palfreyman: I already have around 100 songs to sift through for the sequel. I’m ready. Nick? Niiiick?

Nicholas Pegg: This man can’t stop writing songs, you know. They pour out of him. Do you know the amazing statistic about Turner, that he left something like 400 oil paintings and 30,000 watercolours, which means that he must have averaged about two paintings per day? Well, Dave is like that with songs. Okay, Dave, here’s the deal. Just give me a couple of weeks’ holiday. And then we’ll get going…

You can order ‘Decades’ here:



Review – Nicholas Pegg & David Palfreyman – Decades – by James R. Turner

The concept album, in some quarters it’s a dirty word, the worst excesses of the 1970’s, to some they are bloated behemoths all style and no substance.

To others, the concept album is the pinnacle in musical achievement, to paraphrase something Andy Tillison once said to me, “They are the equivalent of a soundtrack where the film hasn’t been made yet.”

The best and most fulfilling concept albums use all the space the record can provide to build atmosphere, layer on layer of dramatic and musical counterpoints and draw the listener in, and most crucially leave them wanting more.

This is what ‘Decades‘, the new project by acclaimed singer/songwriter David Palfreyman and actor/director Nicholas Pegg (a highly renowned David Bowie expert, and a Dalek in Doctor Who) does. Across four acts and 20 songs (one whole double album, yes it’s available on vinyl, as well as CD and download) it tells the story of the mysterious Kelver Leash as an old man, looking back over his life of fame and fortune.

I had an email conversation with Nicholas and David about the album, which you can read further down however before that, here are my thoughts on this ambitious release.

The beauty with the story is that it’s ambiguous enough for you to put your own interpretations on who and how Kelver became famous, and the musical backdrop fits the whole back story, with the styles and sounds genre hopping and crossing the genres and decades with verve and aplomb.

Some albums which blurs genres and sounds can seem contrived or forced, not ‘Decades‘, the way each song evokes a particular era, and is used to tell Kelver’s story is well thought out, and works perfectly as the acts move on.

With some sublime spoken word dialogue, and an astonishing cast of actors, with character actor David Warner (a name familiar to fans of British horror, and one of the finest actors of his generation) playing Kelver in the present day, and the scenes between him and his agent played by the incomparable Jacqueline Pearce, absolutely crackle with dramatic tension and personality, and the they bounce off each other like they are having a ball.

Kelver as a young man is played by Richard Coyle, and as he is living the celebrity life old Kelver is looking back on, he walks through the play like he owns the stage, a knowing wink here, and a twinkle in the eye throughout, whilst it’s talented newcomer Edward Holtom, who plays Kelver as a young boy that adds to the back story.

With Jan Ravens (Dead Ringers, Spitting Image) playing Jemma/Kelvers Mother and the mysterious Lady Blue, she gets to use her dramatic talents to the full, and the versatile voice artist Simon Greenall (Benidorm, I’m Alan Partridge) plays the roles of 60’s TV news reporter and 1970’s chat show host with aplomb and absolutely authentic to the era that Kelver is reminiscing about.

When you have a cast of actors as strong as this, it’s a case of either go hard or go home with the music and performances, and as the concept grew organically, it doesn’t put a foot wrong musically, covering all bases and all era’s, from the wonderful theme to ‘Decades‘, with it’s fantastic groove and sax sound, to the brilliant There Goes my Darling, with Mitch Benn providing a wonderful lead vocal.

In fact the vocalists and musicans on here are top notch, you have the powerfully soulful Sarah Jane Morris (whose duet with Ian Shaw, Kick On, brings to mind that big show stopper sound of the late 60’s, with Shaw (awarded best singer at the BBC jazz awards for two years) bringing his best Tom Jones to the table. Morris also shines on the albums lead single, the powerfully poignant All Fall Down.

The wonderfully wistful Faraway Day is sung by Jessica Lee Morgan, another powerful female vocalist (whose parents happen to be Tony Visconti and Mary Hopkin). Whilst David Palfreyman showcases his impressive vocal talents on Dead End Morning and Love you ’til Burn Out among others.

The hauntingly beautiful Lady Blue, with it’s beautiful guitar work, and gorgeous vocals is sung by Eliza Skelton, who also contributes vocals to the darker and more intense Blue Requiem, two songs that perfectly contrast each other.

Each vocalist has been hand picked for the songs and with talents like Cassidy Janson’s vocals on the fab Eyes Wide which draws on the best electro pop, and in the tradition of the greatest electronic songs has a wonderfully metronomic beat and powerfully soulful vocals, and Beth Cannon (Escape to Dream, Who knows what is true? Full Circle & Broken Trend). As an aside, there is a name familiar to us all, occasional Oliver Wakeman vocalist, the wonderful Paul Manzi cropping up on backing vocals, no expense has been spared, and this adds so much depth and soul to the album that it is a joy to listen to.

There is an amazing music collective performing on this album, and Palfreyman and Pegg prove themselves adept at bringing together a powerful ensemble to give each song the performance it deserves, with the cream of the musical crop bringing their all, special mention has got to go to the saxes of Gary Barnacle (who also provides wistful flute work), Terry Edwards and John Fordham, as the sound of a sax solo always sends a shiver down my spine and keeps me listening.

All Fall Down, as mentioned earlier is one of the tracks on the album, and it encapsulates the story in a nutshell for me, and is an astonishing piece of musical beauty, and the video is also worth a watch as well.

Who is Kelver Leash? I have my ideas, but I will let you make up your own mind, as the beauty of this record is that like all the best books/plays/films/records treats us as grown ups and allows us that space to fill based on our interpretation and imagination.

The way the music and the story intertwine is a lesson in the art of how to make the concept album work, this is ambitious, this is bold, this is well written and executed, and most of all, this album is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Nicholas Pegg and David Palfreyman should be applauded for the way they have brought this concept from paper to production, as well as perfectly matching every song to a unique vocalist and getting the casting perfect, as you can’t ever underestimate what Warner, Coyle and Holtom bring to the role of Kelver. This is one of those classic records that keep pulling you back, and one where you get something new from every listen.

This is how concept albums should be, and is for me one of the albums of the year.

Released 14th July 2017

Buy ‘Decades’ from the official webstore here