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Q&A: Wyndham Wallace on his Lee Hazlewood tribute show at The Barbican

By | Published on Friday 25 September 2015

Lee Hazlewood

Wyndham Wallace discusses putting together the upcoming Lee Hazlewood tributes show at The Barbican in London, ‘Love And Other Crimes: The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood’.

How did you come to work with Lee Hazlewood?
I met Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth in late 1998, and he revealed that he was talking to Lee about re-issuing some of his records on his label, Smells Like Records. I was running City Slang’s UK office at the time, but also did PR on a freelance basis for a number of other acts, so offered my services.

Some months later, much to my surprise, Steve called me and asked if I was still available to take on the job. Naturally I leapt at the chance: Lee had been a hero of mine for some years, ever since I first heard ‘Cowboy In Sweden’, which was such a memorable experience that I describe it early in my book about my friendship with Lee”.

When did the idea come up for this show?
I live in Berlin, and I got a message out of the blue from Chris Sharp at The Barbican in November last year. I’d not seen him for many, many years – certainly not since he’d left 4AD Records – and when he said he was coming to the city we decided to meet for brunch. He asked me what I’d been up to, and, as I told him about ‘Lee, Myself & I’, I suddenly thought of asking if he’d be interested in putting on a tribute show. He liked the idea, and soon afterwards I talked to Ed Harcourt about acting as co-curator and musical director. But the idea itself was pretty spontaneous.

How easy was it to pull together the line-up?
Actually, I’d not expected it to be quite so difficult. We approached quite a few artists who were going to be on tour, or in the studio, or who would have family commitments in late October. I actually got a little paranoid about it at one stage!

Then the next issue was that, once we’d started to get people on board, I had to figure out an overall aesthetic to the show and pursue the next round of artists with that in mind. I was keen to highlight the breadth of Lee’s songwriting, and not just go for the obvious candidates. But some people were on board within moments.

I approached Matthew E White after his show in Berlin earlier this year as he was walking to the merch table and just said, “Are you a fan of Lee Hazlewood?” And when he immediately said he was, I asked if he’d like to be part of the event. It took him less than a second to say yes. Flo Morrissey, too, was especially eager to take part, and of course Ed Harcourt, who was on board before I’d even had a chance to finish my invitation!

Overall, it’s been a lot of work, but really, really enjoyable work, and even some of the people who declined the invitation sent me some lovely messages. I still wish I could have talked Mark Hollis into playing, though. And, of course, that Lee was here to see it.

What do you think Lee would think of the show?
In 1999, there was a show in New York at the Liars Lounge, where various local artists sang his songs, including a young Martha Wainwright. I wasn’t there, but I heard he was rather dreading it, and then got so caught up in the fun that he ended up celebrating with liberal quantities of Chivas and declaring his love for everyone involved.

Also, when I put together ‘Total Lee!’, a tribute album, in 2002, I sat with him as he listened to it for the first time, and I could tell he was baffled by some of the arrangements, but deeply flattered by the collection as a whole. So I’d suspect his reaction to this show would be the same. He might perhaps squirm at the attention, but deep down he’d probably be loving it, and fascinated by how the “young kids” delivered his songs.