Dot Allison first found fame with One Dove before enjoying a successful solo career. Andy McCulloch reviews some of his old writings and provides a snapshot of their separate lives, which do in fact have an element of synchronicity.
‘So, I saw that Dot Allison article in The Independent and it made me think of you Andy,’ my dear friend Hannah told me one day.
She was referring to the traumatic tale of Dot’s recent history: a speeding car had rear-ended the vehicle in which she was a backseat passenger and had ultimately left her confined to a wheelchair for four months. While confined to her hospital bed, The Independent journalist wrote that “her thoughts drifted on streams of morphine”.
The connection that Hannah had made was because about a year before I had been in a coma for a few days after drunkenly, accidentally, falling off Blackpool sea wall while away on a friend’s stag weekend.
This is heaven now
You’re in heaven
You’re in heaven
You’re in heaven
This is heaven now
You’re in heaven
‘This cannot be for real. What is this place? I want to get out this bed now! Who is holding me here? … There, there. Try and be calm. Your sister will be here soon. She will tell you what happened.’
But now Dot was back with her debut lp, Afterglow, after a painful split from One Dove, the Andrew Weatherall-endorsed three-piece, with which she had broken through into clubland consciousness and broke into the Top 40 singles chart. When such an achievement seemed to count for something!
‘Where is my sister? What is taking her so damn long? She will tell me the truth. She will get me out of this madhouse.’
Fair to say the album connected with me deeply. The first time I heard any track from it I was working nights and strung out with that special exhaustion night workers get. ‘Message Personnel’ popped up on the radio, Kevin Shields’ sprawling guitar lines blowing my co-worker’s minds (for some reason that night the dial had switched from the usual commercial station), and created a lasting impression.
‘Finally, my sister has arrived. She’ll tell me the truth and explain why I am being held here.’
A few months following Afterglow’s release I was in snowy Prague to see in the Millennium. Days before, the romance between with my (now) wife first blossomed.
Believe me I know it’s been hard for you
There’s never an easy way to let it go
And I dreamt that you were telling me you dreamt of me
But now I’m waking up, I think I’m waking up
Unsuspecting bar staff in the Golden City were inundated with requests from me, pining for my new love back in England, to play the CD. I recall them being happy to give it a spin. You could say it Afterglow soundtracked the early days of my first true love. Not that I thought the lp was/is perfect. It simply landed at a major point in my life and was, mostly, written by a person whose experience, I thought, reflected my own.
‘That’s it. She has gone. I am stuck here forever. She couldn’t understand a single word I said.’
In my comatose state, I imagined I was being held captive by a sex cult that was heavily into disfiguring its abductees. I pinned all my hopes on my sister arriving and telling me, if fact, I was ‘simply’ in hospital. Turns out, I had a tube down my throat and she couldn’t make out a word I was saying.
Let’s just say, The Independent journalist’s romantic notion of a person in a coma conjuring with lively sounds and fantastical imagery couldn’t be further from my own experience.
Fast forward a few years to this review, written by me around the time of Dot’s follow-up lp We Are Science (2002).
It’s a relief when Dot emerges. She manages a nervous smile and wave. An evening in the company of the menacing, dark character heard on We Are Science can be very unsettling.
The precise electro feel of the new material highlights Allison’s dance sensibilities, while her band create mayhem with guitars and drums.
An exhilarating show is crowned with a rendition of One Doves’s classic White Love as an encore. Unsettling, but captivating at the same time. 8/10
View from the Void by Andrew McCulloch
The review was published nearly 20 years ago and a lot of water has passed under the bridge. She released two other albums Exaltation of Larks (2007) and Room 7½ (2009) and latterly has been heavily involved with film soundtracks. Read on to discover what she is up to now.
An interview with Dot Allison
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions Dot Allison, or, more correctly, Dot Henson. Care to throw some light on this?
I married Christian in 2011. But I’m still using my maiden name as it’d be too complicated to contemplate changing it for my music. <laughs>
It’s a few years ago now, but did your terrible car accident, and the subsequent recovery, affect your day-to-day living?
I am okay thank you. I think I got over it eventually (and I’m glad you’re okay too). I recall at my driving lessons being asked if I had been in a crash as she said I was inordinately cautious at making decisions at the wheel. I fractured my pelvis in three places so I’m fortunate I don’t notice it these days but I was quite fit when it happened and the doctor said that was lucky as my physical health allowed me to heal successfully apparently.
I read somewhere that you stopped drinking alcohol. Are you happy to say why? Please let our readers know how your health has benefitted.
I’m just shit at drinking so I stopped … it doesn’t agree with me at all. I don’t miss hangovers at all. I’ll never take for granted never ever having to have one again.
Have you always lived in Scotland? Did you not have to re-locate to London at any point? If so, anything you miss about life in the big city?
I lived in London for 20 odd years. I have many many friends there. I moved into a warehouse in Old Street in 1996 and it was a ghost town. I, the night I arrived, tried to buy a pint of milk at what turned out to be Metalheadz. <laughs> I became teetotal that year I recall. I moved to Angel, London Bridge then Kennington. I do miss aspects of London – my beloved friends mainly and the actual place too – but London the place looked out for me when I was there.
You have worked with so many big names in music (too many to list in fact!), from Paul Weller to Massive Attack to Pete Doherty to Mercury Rev. In terms of your own recordings, do you sometimes write a piece with a view to collaborating, or do you wait till you get into the studio and go from there?
Paul Weller texted me and said ‘‘Bobby Gillespie says you’re good n gave me your number – you want to write a song together?’’ I nearly fell off my seat.
Pete Doherty asked me via my brother as he’d contributed to his fanzine and had asked about me … so I didn’t initiate those collaborations myself.
But with Mercury Rev, I did ask them as I loved Deserters Songs. I just reckon it’s lovely to get in a room and coalesce with artists you like, as the result could be magical and greater than the sum of everyone if that makes sense.
As mentioned, you have teamed up with many well-known names; however, not so many female artists. Why do you think that is?
I guess in the area of music I was in, they were slightly thinner on the ground but I recall hero-worshipping Hope Sandoval and I held up a photo of her in Melody Maker as a favourite singer but maybe asked guys back then for more of an experiential juxtaposition and a contrast. I don’t know … but interestingly since about a decade ago I have worked with many many women and my new album is just with ladies so far.
How necessary do you think the #metoo movement is needed in rehearsal and recording studios for example?
Well, anything that creates the awareness and a language and conversation around any oppression or abuse I think is a good thing. Awareness is the first step to change, and I think I certainly hadn’t articulated or consciously thought about quite just how outnumbered, discounted, probably underestimated and even uncredited/paid properly on a couple of songs I contributed to at the time. I think it’s a kind of unconscious non-entitlement that naturally you’re not fully aware of until you thaw and wake up to the severity of the imbalance, and the lack of parity between male and female artists. And I guess for the guys the flipside being a perhaps also unconscious innate kind of entitlement that’s just there too as it’s just societal. But as women are in every sense naturally creative, it’s probably inevitable that that might be snuffed out by someone fearful of the potential depth of it I guess.
What are your immediate plans musically? Songwriting or soundtracking?
I am recording a new album so it’s timely that you should ask me to contribute something – so thank you! I’m off to Castlesound in Pencaitland, Edinburgh to record tomorrow – with ladies – my first album I bought was The Blue Nile A Walk Across The Rooftops, which was recorded there so there are familiar ghosts in the air … so it feels apt.
A new release from Dot Allison is always welcome; she is never less than totally honest, ambitious, and innovative. Let’s get this year out of the way … the collaborative work from the Castlesound sessions will be something very much to look forward to.