Al Ross & The Planets are a London based rock band. They recorded both their debut album THE PLANETS ONE and their brilliant follow up album BLUE CRYSTAL at Abbey Road Studios.
Al Ross (Alan Ramirez) - Lead vocals and bass
David Brammer - Saxophone
Lyndon Connah - Piano, keyboards, bass, vocals
Terry Mascall - Drums
Paul Miller - Vocals
Alex Mungo - Vocals
Julian Mungo - Acoustic guitar
Marc Rapson - Keyboards, percussion
George E. Well - Electric guitar
In the early 90s, Al Ross & The Planets were one of the most popular live bands in London. Laura Lee Davies (Time Out London Music Editor) claimed that seeing a live Planets gig was “one of the best nights out in London”.
In 2018, the band got back together to record a number of their original songs at Abbey Road studios, and to start performing again at venues across the UK including The Half Moon, Boisdale, The Cavern Club, The Troubadour, Kensington Roof Gardens and The Hard Rock Cafe. Their debut album “The Planets One” was released to critical acclaim. Just some of the reviews:
“The Planets One is fantastic” – Janice Long – BBC Radio
“I cannot believe this is a debut album – it is that good. If you love good music, then I can highly recommend this album” – Chris Hawkins – BBC 6 Music
“Really nice album – some great tracks recorded at Studio 2 Abbey Road” – Barry James - DJ Radio Caroline
“New album is great…Excellent music…brilliant…love it!” – Geoff Dorset – Express FM Portsmouth
In January 2020, the band returned to Abbey Road to record a new batch of songs written by Al Ross and Alex Mungo. Halfway through recording, COVID 19 struck. Members would soon be sidelined by the virus, travel around London became forbidden, and — when sessions did finally resume in May — there was a long list of safety measures.
As band members became unable to take part, Al hired various session players to fill the gaps. He asked his longtime friend Lyndon Connah to play keyboards and assist with production. Connah’s extensive resume includes work with Level 42, George Michael, Squeeze, Joe Cocker, Thomas Dolby, Nik Kershaw, and Go West. Next, Anthony Broza at Wienerworld suggested blues guitarist Norman Beaker. A native of Manchester, Norman has been involved with the British blues scene since the 1960s and has toured and/or recorded with Jack Bruce, Chris Farlowe, Van Morrison, Chuck Berry, and B.B. King, among many others. Additional musicians on Blue Crystal include Tansy Garrod (violin), Paul Jefferies (double bass), Jamie Masters (guitar), Holly Petrie (backing vocals), Jamie Wall (trumpet), Alex Ward (lead guitar), and the Sing Gospel Choir.
The wide array of talent involved in the collaboration yielded spectacular results and a brilliant album.
Al Ross: “Facing huge obstacles in a horrendous year — with two members getting Covid — we managed to turn a very difficult and stressful situation into a hugely positive one, and produce a truly great album!”
ADDITIONAL MUSICIANS PERFORMING ON BLUE CRYSTAL
Norman Beaker – Guitars
Paul Jefferies – Double Bass
Tansy Garrod – Violins
Jamie Masters – Guitars
Holly Petrie – Vocals
Jaime Wall – Trumpets
Alex Ward – Guitars
Sing Gospel – Choir
A SHORT HISTORY OF AL ROSS & THE PLANETS
The earth has travelled a few dozen rotations around the sun since Al Ross & The Planets first formed in 1983. Based in London, the group was originally a trio of musicians: Al Ross (real name Alan Ramirez) on lead vocals and bass guitar, Alex Mungo on keyboards and vocals, and Paul Freeney on drums. With the assistance of a variety of local guitarists, The Planets became a fully-committed live combo with setlists drawn from hits by such popular acts as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, as well as the gritty blues and soul catalogues of Stax/Volt and Atlantic Records.
In late 1985, Alex departed the band to become a touring keyboardist in the London pop group Then Jerico. As a result, The Planets went on hiatus until 1990 when Al, Paul, and new members Steve Hopwood (guitar), Bert Routledge (keyboards), and Dave Brammer (saxophone) started performing concerts. In 1992, Alex rejoined, and two years later his older brother Julian also joined as a guitarist.
The Planets were a consistent presence on the UK live circuit throughout the 1990s. They raised the roofs of such storied London venues as The Camden Palace, The Brahms and Liszt, The Half Moon, and The Roadhouse. Time Out London declared “catching a live show by The Planets is one of the best nights out in London.”
Eventually, The Planets began to integrate original tunes into their live sets. One of the first songs Ross and Mungo co-wrote was “My Love for You,” which appeared years later on the first Al Ross & The Planets album, The Planets One. By 1998, the pair were collaborating on a more regular basis, and during this period they created the frameworks for “Crossroads,” “Faith,” and “All the Things We Started,” all of which surface on the second album.
By 2001, the band was winding down.
“We started out as young, carefree musicians who just wanted to play great music to appreciative audiences and have a wild time,” explains Al. “Around the time that we really became serious about writing our own songs, our plans were indefinitely put on hold due to job commitments.”
Fate would bring the band back together in 2007. One aspect of Al’s day-to-day job was events planning, and he had booked a Norwegian band to perform at Liverpool’s famed Cavern Club. At the last minute, the band dropped out, so Al gave a call to his former bandmates. The Planets reformed, now with George E. Well on guitar, and went down a storm that night. A handful of “one-off” dates would continue over the next year, including gigs in Frankfurt and Chicago.
The next band sabbatical would last from late 2008 until 2014. The members had kept in touch over the years so in 2014 the decision was made to regroup for a live show at The Kensington Roof Gardens (a club owned by Richard Branson) in London to see if the old magic was still intact.
It was. The band quickly found its groove again and everyone loved the sense of brotherhood that resulted from playing together after so many years. The reconvened lineup included Ross, Mungo, Freeney, Well, Brammer, and new co-vocalist/songwriter Paul Miller.
A decision was made to finally enter the studio and record the catalogue of original material Al and Alex had written in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The Planets soon landed a recording contract with long-running Independent UK label Wienerworld.
Things quickly began to fall into place. Sessions were booked at the fabled Abbey Road in London. Al and the rest of the band were awestruck at being able to record in Abbey Road’s Studio 2, the landmark room in which The Beatles recorded 195 classic tracks. “The Beatles are a very important part of our lives and there is a special vibe when you go into Studio 2 — it certainly makes you step up to the mark. Also, the place hasn’t changed since The Beatles’ days. It looks no different to the photographs that you see from years back.”
In 2017, the debut album, The Planets One, was recorded in five predominantly live sessions. Halfway through recording, Paul Freeney had to exit due to an impending surgery. Terry Mascall stood in for him and completed the drum tracks. The Planets One was released by Wienerworld in February 2018. A pair of esteemed BBC Radio deejays greeted the album with enthusiasm — Janice Long called it “fantastic” while Chris Hawkins proclaimed “I can’t believe this is a debut album... highly recommended.” The band wasted no time in providing live support for the songs. They played a string of legendary London venues including the Troubadour, Boisdale Canary Wharf, the Camden Blues Kitchen, and their old stomping grounds, the Half Moon.
Fiercely loyal to the album format, The Planets were proud to make a long-form musical statement. “Our goal was to create an immersive experience when listened to as a whole,” said Al. “We’re heartened to see the renaissance of the vinyl LP format, with a whole new generation experiencing the flow of a carefully-curated and sequenced collection of songs.”
Al and his bandmates were reinvigorated by the Abbey Road experience. They quickly set about making plans for a second album, eventually to be titled Blue Crystal.
“Unlike the first album, I knew I wanted more elaborate production to create some real epics,” said Ross. “I asked Marc Rapson to produce the album, which took some of the pressure off me.” Marc is a versatile producer/songwriter/instrumentalist who has been active in the dance world, remixing tracks and performing with Kim Wilde and Ben Westbeech. He is now a full-fledged member of The Planets.
Recording commenced in January 2020. George E Well initially couldn’t take part due to scheduling conflicts but his involvement was soon derailed by the arrival of Covid-19. The guitarist contracted the virus early, eventually becoming a “long hauler” with serious illness for the entire year. Paul Miller also became completely bogged down with new restrictions brought on by the pandemic. Al determined that he would need to seek out session musicians to complete the album.
He asked his longtime friend Lyndon Connah to play on the album and co-produce alongside Rapson. Lyndon has a storied career as a keyboardist in the pop world, including extensive work with Mark King of Level 42, Sinéad O’Connor, Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood), and Go West. Next, Anthony Broza at Wienerworld suggested blues guitarist Norman Beaker. A native of Manchester, Norman has been involved with the British blues scene since the 1960s and has toured and/or recorded with Jack Bruce, Chris Farlowe, Van Morrison, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, among numerous others. Additional musicians on Blue Crystal include Tansy Garrod (violin), Paul Jefferies (double bass), Jamie Masters (guitar), Holly Petrie (backing vocals), Jamie Wall (trumpet), Alex Ward (lead guitar), and the Sing Gospel Choir. The choir includes Bert Routledge, a keyboardist/vocalist whose history with The Planets dates back to the early 1990s.
When album sessions resumed in May, the obstacles initially seemed insurmountable. The UK was under strict lockdown travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Plus, there was a long list of studio protocols: social distancing had to be observed, masks were worn at all times, and disinfectant was always present.
Despite the rules, there were numerous moments of joy. “It was the first time at Abbey Road for the two new Planets,” reveals Ross. “Being huge Beatles fans, Marc and Lyndon were fairly overwhelmed. Having access to and recording on the pianos and the Hammond organ that The Beatles and Pink Floyd used is very cool. Lyndon’s father, Trevor Connah, was a well-known violinist and orchestra leader who recorded many times over the years at Abbey Road, so it was an emotional experience for Lyndon. He recorded the piano part of ‘Crossroads’ on the Steinway in one take. We all had shivers going down our spines in the control room.”
The Abbey Road sessions were engineered by Lewis Jones and Andy Maxwell, with additional sessions at Echo Studios in Buckinghamshire engineered by Jamie Masters. The entire Blue Crystal album was mixed by Chris Bolster at Abbey Road. Bolster also mixed the previous The Planets One.
Each of Blue Crystal’s eight tracks were written by Al and Alex in collaboration with either Lyndon Connah, or Marc Rapson. Gary Wonfor and Alex Grayson also share writing credit on “Something Changed My Mind.”
Al Ross: The stress of trying to finish the BLUE CRYSTAL album under such difficult conditions and circumstances was pretty overwhelming. Having said that we were determined to create something positive out of a horrendous 2020, and were able to collaborate with some truly great musicians. We are all very proud of what we managed to create, especially in the face of such adversity!”