WHEN Pete Williams stayed in Sheffield to record his latest solo work, the Dexy’s Midnight Runners guitarist felt very much at home.
“Being in Sheffield was very much home from home,” says Williams. “I really like Sheffield, it’s very similar to the Black Country, there’s a similar industrial heritage and even the landscape is similar with its hills.
“I really like the people too – it’s almost like Sheffielders have a pathological avoidance of coming across big-headed.”
But it was significant that the Steel City had this effect. His album, See, is about life, families, the past and flaws.
Its 11 tracks – recorded at the now defunct Axis Studios – are textured, melodic interpretations of Williams’ Birmingham upbringing, as well as his 30-odd-year musical career.
Family and home life even dominate the album’s artwork – his brother’s rescued greyhound is on the cover while an old family photograph is reprinted on the inner sleeve.
Not only did Sheffield revive Williams’ sense of home, it’s also where many of the album’s musicians are based. Dean Beresford, Richard Hawley’s drummer, plays on the album and Hawley played guitar on three tracks.
“Richard Hawley has been a huge support with the album. He came in the studio while we were recording and was knocked out by what he heard and asked if he could play guitar on a few songs,” said Williams.
Imelda May’s double-bass player Al Gare also featured on the album, along with Williams’ long-time collaborator, Fred Skidmore, with whom he has worked for more than 25 years.
“It’s been wonderful making this album, I’ve been working with fantastic people who do it because they love doing it. There are no invoices flying around here.”
The range of musicians on the album is reflected in its musical depth. Instrumentation is layered subtly, demanding more than one listen.
“This is a studio album very much in the style of the 70s studio album. I wanted to make an album with layers and depth and one that will grow on you over time. It’s a good, rounded piece of work.”
But while soaked in intricate melodies, Williams’ songs also strike strong emotional chords. Tracks such as Are You Listening? is about his relationship with his father and how getting older has led him to understand that his father had only good intentions, although he didn’t realise that as a young man.
“When I was a teenager and Dexy’s Midnight Runners was taking off I remember saying to my dad, ‘Right, I’m going to go for this,’ but he wasn’t happy about me not getting a proper job.
“He wasn’t a musician so didn’t understand – it was a generational thing. But as I’ve got older I realise that he did his best but there were frictions between us.
“I was 18 when it all took off with Dexy’s. It was amazing – I always watched Top of the Pops and to be on the programme was magical.”
Williams was with Dexy’s Midnight Runners when the band released the huge single Geno but he left before the band released its biggest hit, Come on Eileen. The band reunited in 2003 and is bringing out an album this year called One Day I’m Going to Soar.
His solo album, charts his life, as a friend, son and musician. “Some of the songs are about my failings and how we’re all working through things to make things better. The opening track, Reconsider This, is about somebody I knew who got married but knocked his wife around. The track’s about questioning what it is to be a man.
“Much of the album is about how fragile we are and facing up to our shortcomings. And in that sense, See is a cathartic album. It’s like the common phrase, better out than in,” says Williams.
Pete Williams plays at the Greystones, Greystones Road, on Wednesday.