Early years

I was born in 1959 just around the corner from Penny Lane, and grew up beneath Liverpool’s blue suburban skies, with my parents, Brian & Olive, (both school-teachers), and my young sisters, Catherine & Margaret.

In those days, the whole world was gripped by Beatlemania and the Soviet-American space race. The sixties were an optimistic time to grow up; peace, prosperity and the promise of a bright future for us all. England won the World Cup, colour television and stereo sound arrived, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and 19 days later the Beatles set foot  on the Abbey Road zebra crossing!

Ed Alleyne-Johnson photo

Ed Alleyne-Johnson playing live

My Dad, (who as a young teacher had taught George Harrison and  Paul McCartney at the Liverpool Institute), was also a skilled woodworker,  and he made me a wooden model of John Lennon’s Rickenbacker guitar  to play with when I was five.

My grandpa used to play his violin to me when I was a baby; he had played  it in the trenches during the war, and when he died in the early 1960′s,  I inherited his violin. I learnt to play classical violin at school, and joined the Liverpool Schools Symphony Orchestra, but I really wanted to play in a rock band. In 1971, I had a revelation; I saw Jimmy Lea playing electric violin on ‘Top of the Pops’ with Slade; the song was ‘Coz I Luv You’, their first No. 1 single, (released on my twelfth birthday!) and I’ll never forget the impact it had on me – for the first time I realised that violins weren’t just for classical and jazz; you could play rock music on them too!

When I was 16, I lost interest in the violin for a while, and persuaded my Dad to buy me a bass guitar and an amp so that I could join a school rock band; although he preferred Mozart and Bach to the Beatles and the Stones, he always encouraged me to play rock music as long as it didn’t interfere with my school work! He needn’t have worried; I passed all my ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, and was offered a place at Pembroke College Oxford to study Fine Art at the Ruskin.

It was there that I met a number of like-minded musicians, who introduced me to the experimental improvised music of Can, whose guitarist Michael Karoli also played electric violin. I listened to and studied Steve Hillage’s echo guitar-playing on the Gong albums, the medieval strangeness of the Art Bears’ violinist Fred Frith, Curved Air’s Darryl Way, Jean-Luc Ponty’s violin work with Frank Zappa, Steeleye’s ace fiddler Pete Knight, and Jackson Browne’s guitarist and violinist, David Lindley.

One of the student bands I played with introduced me to the WEM Watkins Copicat, a primitive mains-powered echo unit which used a loop of magnetic tape to echo any instrument that you plugged into it. I was fascinated by it, and spent hours playing my violin through it, learning how to create a wall of sound with just one instrument.

While studying art at the Ruskin, I had the good fortune to be taught by one of my heroes, Sir Peter Blake, designer of the iconic Sgt. Pepper album cover, who came up from London as a visiting tutor. He sat and watched me working on a giant 18′ by 6′ photorealist oil painting of six disembodied hands floating in the sky above a beach, and gave me some great technical advice, which inspired me to try designing album covers myself. I re-used the hands image years later on the inner sleeve and discs of my ‘Echoes’ CD.

7 Responses to “Early years”

  1. Dave Tonks August 31, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    Hi
    I don’t know you, I’ve never seen you before I visited Chester and saw you busking. Whatever you had when you started out, well it’s still there. You were mesmerising.
    Dave

  2. Catherine Caplan September 6, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    Hi Ed , Sister here , love your website. See you next time I’m up in L’pool xxxCatherine

  3. Heather Clark September 8, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

    Saw you busking in Chester on sun. Second time weve seen you now. Husband daughter and myself think your music is so moving. Looking to buy another of your cds, and look forward to hearing your new one when its out.

  4. martin November 9, 2014 at 1:29 am #

    Visited Chester today and heard this sound as we left the shopping centre into the main street. We then saw you playing and couldn’t believe you were alone-I expected there to be 4 musicians playing. We watched for 10 minutes or so. My son (8years old who shows no interest in anything unless its a computer game) was totally bewildered by the haunting, brilliance that you played. We couldn’t get him away, he could have watched all day. Its worth a trip to Chester to watch you again. Truly fantastic. Love it.

  5. David Nicholls December 20, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Ed,
    Came across you on Youtube last night and well impressed !
    My wife Teresa is from Kraków, Poland and thinks you’d go down a treat with both the locals and the tourists over there !

  6. Kev Barker August 29, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    Hello Ed, Thanks for chatting with me and my wife and signing a copy of Echoes for my son on Friday in Chester. There’s a story behind how I discovered Purple Electric Violin Concerto that I will save for the next time I see you busking! PS My daughter saw you live for the first time in Chester at the weekend and is also now a fan. Looking forward to hearing Pluto.

  7. Andy September 16, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    Hi there.

    Saw you busking in Chester the other day. I was completely blown away by the mesmerising beautiful sounds you produce. Kept trying to leave but found myself returning to hear more.

    Your talent is just truly amazing and I am became a fan from the second I heard the first note. Such diversity of music and sounds. I cannot think of enough adjectives to use lol.

    I took a picture of your little advert so I could find more about you, and see if I could get maybe a home made CD or something. However, after googling you, it is no surprise to see so much about you and thankfully all of your music available on iTunes.

    Just had to write to tell you that you gave me goosebumps that day and I’m so glad I decided to visit Chester that day.

    You are a true talent and I intend to work my way through your entire collections.

    Andrew Shuttleworth (Formby)

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