The accidental songwriter

If it hadn't been for a car crash, Dot Allison wouldn't be where she is today...

Friday 22 October 1999 00:00
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When a car slammed into the back of the car Dot Allison was travelling in two years ago, she only narrowly escaped with her life. In the months afterwards, her thoughts drifted on streams of morphine, with her world confined first to a hospital bed, then to a wheelchair.

When a car slammed into the back of the car Dot Allison was travelling in two years ago, she only narrowly escaped with her life. In the months afterwards, her thoughts drifted on streams of morphine, with her world confined first to a hospital bed, then to a wheelchair.

Even after the accident she remained the singer of One Dove, a band revered in some quarters for what would prove to be their only album, Morning Dove White (1993), which shared Screamadelica's producer Andy Weatherall, and paralleled the 1991 Primal Scream landmark exploration of the boundaries of dance and pop. But as Allison recuperated, conflicts and frustrations within the band reached crisis point. Still wounded, she struck out on her own.

The result, her début album, Afterglow, includes collaborations from My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields and Burt Bacharach's erstwhile partner Hal David. But its themes and musical vision, its marshalling of the blissed-out possibilities inherent in styles from Sixties ballads to Nineties dance, are all her own. Its centre-piece, the eight-minute "Morning Sun", represents her accident's morphine-hazed aftermath which, even as she experienced it, she struggled to scribble down, to turn into sound. Though it was written after her recuperation, it's impossible to separate the record from the moment that broke her life in two.

"It makes you realise the wafer-thinness between everything being the way it is, and everything being completely upside down," she says carefully. "It seemed everything that I aspired to was hanging by a thread. So when the thread didn't break, it seemed ... well, I have to do this now."

Leaving One Dove was an equally vital aspect of Allison's post-accident rebirth. Pressures from an unsympathetic record company and the creative separation of the band's members added to frustrations Allison had felt almost from the start. As One Dove's lone female, pretty and blonde, she was cast as "the token chick"; her own songwriting abilities were ignored. Did making the album she wanted give her back feelings of power?

"No. Relief. You worry you're not capable of working single-handed. I felt quite emotional when I'd finished, in fact - maybe because I so nearly didn't make it at all."

The roots that led to Afterglow's achievement go back much further than One Dove - as far back as Allison can recall. Her mother and aunt were musicians, and as a small child she strained to touch their piano's keys. By five she was learning to play; by 13 she was picking out songs with friends on a guitar. Two moments stretched her early horizons: her aunt's donation of a pile of Sixties records when she was 14 (harmonic, melodic pop from Bobby Gentry to Sandie Shaw), and initiation by her brother into Iggy Pop and Joy Division. But it was the thunderflash of club culture in 1988, as she studied at college in Glasgow, that was the true turning-point.

Excitement at the way people were breaking into music by the back door after years of stasis encouraged her and her One Dove bandmates to leap in themselves. The band's fellow-travellers in those heady days were Primal Scream, the Chemical Brothers and Underworld. She views the subsequent global triumph of her old friends as a vindication of the times they all went through - a kind of victory.

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"I feel very proud," she says. "Not in a personal way, but happy for their achievements. We were all kicking out against the lack of spine of the record companies then. I want something with an edge to it, a bit of musical intelligence, something that hasn't had its imperfections sandpapered away."

But doesn't she feel stranded on the starting-blocks? "If things had been handled differently for us as a band, we'd have been the best of them. I've no bitterness. But our album could have put us there." It's a sense of regret that pervades Afterglow, even in its title.

Are such softened remembrances something she has affection for? "Yes," she says. "It's euphoric recall. You go through life striving to enhance what you've got. It's only when you look back that you go, 'I was so happy! Why didn't I know?' In the afterglow, you realise you were always fine. That's something I'm trying to do better these days - to say, 'Thank you. This is good.'"

'Afterglow' is out now

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