All posts tagged interview

Bring Him Home on ITV’s Daybreak:

There was an interview too!

This time it’s thanks to Alfie for sharing these videos!

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Writing a music blog means that you get to listen to a lot of music, some good, some not so good and occasionally, some really good.  I love bringing you new music and new voices in particular and I recently heard a lovely new voice and wanted to share it with you.  Marga Lane is a music graduate from the USA who is shortly to release a new EP, Undressed which draws heavily on her ‘old school’ musical influences to display her raw, yet versatile voice.

The music is simple, pared down in style which is a departure from Lane’s previous music.  In Lane’s own words (from our recent interview), “I wanted the EP to not be over produced, the intention was to be simple.  My previous music was heavily produced…I love Nashville and Country music and I love how a simple melody evokes such emotion from the voice”.

Undressed is self penned  and it feels as if the songs are rooted in real experiences and emotions – undressed emotionally as well as musically. I asked Lane if any of the songs were written from her own perspective and she confirmed that “yes, they are about my current relationship, I can finally write love songs.  Experiencing these things personally means I have so much more emotion to put into singing them.”  It seemed that this was Lane’s favourute question, in fact she declared that “this is my most fun question…I used to see interviews and think who is that song about and now I get to answer that question”!

Undressed‘s five tracks reflect a musical past shaped by Motown, blues, pop and folk and indeed, Lane confirms that her earliest influences included Motown and Michael Jackson, collectively referred to as ‘old school’ as well as The Spice Girls although it seems that this was more from a performance point of view than the music.  We all had a favourite spice girl and Lane’s was Scary Spice aka Mel B.  My favourite track is Forgiven as it shows a more complex song writing structure and is more thought provoking emotionally.  I was left contemplating the nature of forgiveness, something a three minute song doesn’t normally do.

Lane’s road to success started when she studied music at Berklee College, Boston and one of her strategies for sharing her music is to sing before NBA games and also at fashion shows.  Asked how this came about, she says “I love singing the national anthem and I reached out to NBA co-ordinators, sending them clips of me singing and a few of them invited me to sing before games.  It’s nice to have that on my resume and people find out about my music”.  Performing at fashion shows is slightly different in that there’s a backing track and a DJ but this apparently makes Lane feel like “a pop star…there’s more exposure there and opportunities to speak to people”.

For 2017, Lane hopes to tour the EP before going back into the studio.

Undressed is released on 2 December and is available here:


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What is it that makes someone who likes music and singing decide to pursue music as a profession? Is it talent, opportunity, courage or a mixture of all three? Having spoken to a number of up and coming artists I’ve decided that all the three qualities already mentioned have to be there and also that extra special something: the feeling that you really have to put your heart and soul on the line and follow that dream.

I recently spoke to a young London based singer, Mariam, who has only relatively recently embarked on the life of a musician, indeed she has only been performing publicly since 2011. Mariam says that she has “always loved singing and music”.

“Music was always something I wanted to do, I feel as if I was born to do it. I love writing as well and I knew that if I didn’t take the plunge and do it, I wouldn’t ever feel really happy.”

Starting with open mic nights and progressing on to small, local gigs concentrating on just her voice and the guitar (the guitar is called Pearl), Mariam soon built up a local following and thoughts turned to recording an EP. Mariam readily admits that despite high hopes, the EP didn’t happen as, “it just didn’t sound the way I wanted it to”. A brave decision to step away but given that many a promising career has been curtailed by putting out music that the performer isn’t happy with, perhaps the right one.

Two years on and having joined the London Community Gospel Choir, Mariam has her mojo back and having written and recorded an EP that she’s happy with, released it last week. In conversation, her enthusiasm for this new project is infectious – she says that the recording “just flowed. The process came together and I knew it was supposed to sound like this”. The time spent away from music as a solo artist has meant that this time around, Mariam’s love of music has come to the fore naturally, with something new to share in the EP, Heart to Heart.

Heart to Heart begins with an upbeat track and the first single, Be There For Me, which recounts a tale of unrequited love. Lest this sound a tad bleak, the song actually charts the realisation that you can’t make someone love you and that sometimes, it’s best to walk away:

The rest of Heart to Heart talks about the themes of live and love, with the pared down Running being the stand out track. Self penned, the songs feel natural and unforced and Mariam sounds like a much more experienced musician.

For the future, Mariam hopes to make music her full time living although she hastened to say that she’s lucky enough to be able to use music in her day job too, being a creative arts youth worker in schools. Her final thoughts on the future of her music are that she wants to put out “music that inspires and encourages others. I was so fearful of taking the step and now here I am, doing it”.

Heart to Heart is available now on iTunes – click here.

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Regular readers will know that I love lots of different kinds of music and I especially like hearing new music from singer song writers, whether they be new or established in the music industry.  I recently had the opportunity to interview New York musician, singer, songwriter, visual artist and the all round super talent that is Rachael Sage about her latest album, Choreographic and her UK tour of the same name.  This is the second time I’ve reviewed and interviewed Rachael and her single Coloring Book is one of my most listened to songs on my iPod.

Coloring Book is what I call a happy tune and has a clear visual theme and Choreographic continues in the same vein.  Rachael says the album was inspired by dance (she has a background in ballet and her music has been extensively featured on the reality show Dance Moms) but also refers to visual art, ie the graphic.  The first track is titled Heaven is a Grocery Clerk and as a lot of the lyrics refer to visual art I assumed she was talking about her own work.  However, the painting and art sung about is by an artist called Riki Chen.  Rachael said of the song “he’s [Chan] kind of a kindred spirit, he went through some really tough times and bounced back but even through the tough times he never stopped creating.  He told me a story that when he was homeless and hungry, heaven to him was once a grocery store clerk.”  The song has a dark undertone but ultimately, the listener feels uplifted.  Another song that has a darker undertone but uplifts the listener is I Don’t Believe It:

On one hand, the lyrics talk to us about someone fighting against the ‘you can’t do it, you’re not good enough’ mentality but the upbeat melody pushes against that, resulting in a song that leaves you feeling on top of the world: I CAN do this, rather than I can’t.  This feeling is reinforced by the beautiful video.  Rachael said of this video “Kaci King, the dancer in this video has such musicality and it was so exciting to see what she could bring to the song”.   Looking at this video you can see how well the music conveys emotion through contemporary ballet as well as jazz and modern dance.

Choreographic also sees Rachael’s first ever song writing collaboration, on Home.  On asked why this is the first co-write of her career, Rachael says “that I have never been one to write collaboratively, it’s not been what I wanted to do.  In this case, a young girl, Fiona Harte, from Dublin was in New York and sad she wanted to write a song with me.  We had lunch, learned about who she was.  She’s passionately into music and we bonded on home being a place where you feel accepted for who you are”.    The resulting track is beautiful, speaking about the joys and difficulties of home and being away from home so much – the life of a touring musician!

I spoke to Rachael at the end of her UK tour – don’t worry, she’s back at the end of October, click here for details – and wondered about differences between US and UK audiences.  Rachael answered “[UK] audiences listen so beautifully, I love playing here.  The main differences are in interaction after the show.  UK audiences treat you like they’ve known you all their lives, they don’t get in your personal space.  The British are great conversationalists”.  This description of a British audience is extended towards what on the face of it might be a tough audience: school children.  Many of Rachael’s shows are in adult only venues and to counter this, Rachael and her band performed and created workshops for young people in schools around the country.  Thee show were conceived as an alternative to multiple radio interviews and, according to Rachael, were ” a lot less crazy than radio.  It was interesting for the teachers to see the students interacting with us, at first they held back but became very exuberant, even the older kids”.  That’s some achievement Rachael!

If you like songs that tell a story then Choreographic is for you.  The album flows effortlessly through a variety of emotions but ultimately leaves the listener feeling upbeat.  It’s also great to move to, whether that be dancing, running or walking!

Choreographic is available now:


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A dull and wet Friday in London was made a lot better by seeing Alfie, together with Michael Ball, on US TV.  Click on Alfie and Michael to see the video:

Alfie Michael NYC

A short interview but a great intro to any new fans out there…and existing ones too, seeing as it’s been a while since we’ve heard from Alfie.  Fabulous to see them both featured on US TV and apparently, they’ll be back around the time of the album release.

In case you’re not connected to Alfie via Facebook or Twitter, Alfie and Michael are in New York this week as they record the much anticipated Together album – it will be interesting to see the track list and see how many fan suggestions made it.

Have you voted for your favourite Alfie Boe song yet?  Last chance – the voting ends tomorrow morning (UK time).

Lastly, this past week has seen the 39th anniversary of Elvis’s death so let’s look back to one of my favourite Alfie sings Elvis songs (thanks Nikki for sharing):

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If you’re an avid BBC Radio 2 listener you may well have heard the first single in 27 years from Thompson Twin’s Tom Bailey which has been on the playlist for the last couple of weeks.  Titled Come So Far, the single marks Bailey’s return to music, except of course that he never really went away, as he continued to write and play music after the break up of iconic 80’s band The Thompson Twins, albeit most of it not in the public eye.

tom bailey

Come So Far could be about many things, not least Bailey’s return to writing and playing pop music and his return a couple of years ago to performing the music of the Thompson Twins at festivals here and around the world but it’s actually about neither of these things.  It’s essentially Bailey’s response to the refugee crisis in Europe and he talked more about this when I met him a few weeks ago on a glorious May morning.

The single is being released to raise money for Medecins San Frontiere on a pay what you want download basis but this only came about after Bailey had written the song and played it for friends who immediately said that he must release it.  Having decided to release it as a single, the charitable aspect became very important for Bailey and the decision to invite people to pay what they want came about from the desire to as Bailey says “open doors instead of closing them. Others had done it and it seemed like a good idea”.

As well as raising money for Medecins San Frontiere, Come So Far also refocuses the light on a human story that has dropped out of the day to day headlines but hasn’t gone away: the huge amounts of displaced persons / refugees / migrants arriving in Europe over the last months and years.  Bailey said that like many of us, he just “saw the headlines and didn’t really hear any individual stories”.  That changed when he heard the story of an Afghan teenager who had been sent to London by his mother to avoid being killed or recruited into something dangerous.  It took him three years and it was only when he arrived that he had time to look back at where he’d come from.  To Bailey, that narrative was “so powerful and poetic that I had to write the song.  At the time, it was just one song out of many that I was writing, I had no plans at all to release it”.

As the interview went on, it was clear that Bailey is well informed about the issues at hand having spent a short time visiting the refugee camps at Calais and was quick to point out that none of this is simple or clear cut; there are many facets to the story and not all of them lend themselves to helping charitable causes.  This, together with what can be described as a weariness on the part of consumers for yet more charity singles, meant that Bailey initially hesitated about releasing the single.  Indeed, Bailey has sympathy for the view that this is not what pop music is for, saying that “pop culture is about escapism, it’s not for reminding people that there’s a world of grim reality out there”.  Having said that, Bailey’s pop music hey day comes from a time when Live Aid really did change the way we viewed things and he’s a canny enough musician to write a catchy song that tells a story, well.

He’s also canny enough to know that as the first single from Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey in a long time, the single has rarity value, something he acknowledged when talking about his return to his 80’s music.  Having consistently refused to play that music for over twenty years, the time was right when he was approached by fellow 80’s music icon, Howard Jones to take part in an 80’s tour of the USA (Thompson Twins had huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic).  Having said yes, Bailey went about rediscovering his own music, re-recording and redesigning along the way, having as he wryly said “earned the right to do that the first time around”. Fans have been wholly receptive to this return and one of the delights for Bailey at the live shows is seeing fans who came to gigs in the 80’s – like Bailey himself, they have obviously worn very well.

Come So Far is released on Cooking Vinyl Records on 17 June – click here to pre-order.  A limited edition coloured 7″ vinyl single is also available.

Thompson Twin’s Tom Bailey is appearing at festivals across the UK this summer – click here for dates.

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Mention Jennifer Warnes to music lovers in the UK and you’ll probably expect most answers to include her Oscar winning movie songs Up Where We Belong and (I’ve Had) the Time of My Life.  However, Warnes is a respected singer and writer going back many years and there is much more to her career than those two (admittedly mega selling) songs.

Recent years have seen Warnes collaborating with a number of artists before returning to record a new solo album.  That will hopefully be released by the end of this year / early next year but in the meantime, tomorrow sees the first UK release of Warnes’ 2001 album, The Well.  Why the gap? Well, legal wrangles and what Warnes described in our recent interview as “a chaotic time” in the music industry and the life of her recording career meant that The Well could not receive a UK release.  Now, Warnes owns the master and in her own words, she can “do whatever I want with it”.  I began our interview by asking how it felt to be talking about music that had been recorded over fifteen years ago.  Not surprisingly, Warnes’ feels mostly “relief…the only reason we make records is so that people can listen to them and they can’t do that if they’re not released”.  This was said with a lot of passion and I wondered if, given the struggles, the end result of The Well was worth it.  The answer was of course yes because singing and pursuing a career in the music industry is not a choice to Warnes, rather she describes it as her destiny.  All careers have rocky moments and hers have been with the corporate side of the industry as opposed to the music side which she calls “bliss” in comparison.  Her last word on this was “I’ve paid a great deal for lots of things but I’m still here”.

Still here and still releasing great music no less.  Listening to The Well as a newcomer to Warnes’ solo music I was struck by the emotion and passion of the vocals.  This is an album constructed around a raw, throaty, emotional voice and it works.  The tracks are embued with blues, country, R&B and a hint of bluegrass and most invoke a deep sense of emotion which is, I gather, what Warnes was after; she cares about the listening experience.  Indeed, when asked how she chooses the tracks for her albums, Warnes said that she asks herself if “this song will cause a stir in the heart of the listener?”.  Warnes went on to describe her criteria for choosing songs as this: they have to speak to her life at the moment and they have to suit her voice and personality.  As a group, they have to be happy bedfellows, hanging together as a whole.  During the interview it becomes apparent that recording in a studio is a passion for Warnes, indeed she describes it as a “beautiful process, in which you’re chasing an invisible spirit”.  A further comparison comes from cooking – you can cook with the same ingredients time after time but sometimes the result is perfection and making records is like that.  Sometimes it just comes together perfectly.

My favourite tracks on the album are two of the simplest tracks: Tom Waits’ Invitation to the Blues and Billy Joel’s And So it Goes.  I felt more of an emotional pull from these two stripped back songs, more so perhaps with the Billy Joel song.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Warnes is best known in the UK for her duets with Joe Cocker and Bill Medley and there are two duets on The Well.  Of the two, I most enjoyed Patriots Dream with Arlo Guthrie and I asked her what it’s like singing a duet as opposed to a solo song and this was her answer: “well, how is it making love with yourself or with someone else (laughter)?”.  I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting that answer! I meant to go on to ask about the duets on this album but instead, we talked more about duets in general.  Warnes says that many of her happiest times have been singing on stage with someone, experiences in which they are both feeling an almost spiritual connection.  Jo Cocker was the name that was volunteered along with this statement.

The Well draws on a welter of emotions that are clearly personal to Warnes and the overall effect is to leave the listener with an emotional response to the music.  Since my interview with Warnes clearly denotes that this was her intention, she’s done a great job.  If you’re a fan of bluesy, folky music then The Well is a great album.  It’s also a great way to discover that there’s a lot more to Jennifer Warnes than just a great voice.

The Well is available here:

Jennifer Warnes Well

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This week sees the highlight of the UK music awards season, the BRIT awards.  The event will be shown live on Wednesday and viewers will be able to download and stream all the audio performances.  These downloads will be free to the viewer as Google Play picks up the costs and donates the money to the BRITS official charity partner which this year is the music therapy charity, Nordoff Robbins.  Last years charity, Warchild, received £250k so lets hope that the same (or more!) is raised for one of Alfie Boe’s official charities.

Ahead of this exciting time for Nordoff Robbins, I caught up with CEO Julie Whelan to talk about how being the official charity partner of the BRITS will help them.  The charity have a long standing relationship with the BRIT Trust and the BPI, going back to the 1991 fundraising concert at Knebworth and the set up of the BRIT school which led to extra funding for Nordoff Robbins.  Since then, the BPI and the BRIT Trust have been ongoing supporters of Nordoff Robbins.  This year, much to Julie’s delight, the BPI very much wanted to highlight the work that Nordoff do and asked them to become the official charity partner of the 2016 BRIT awards.  As Julie says, this is doubly brilliant as Nordoff is not a charity that “instantly springs to mind.  When I first started work with Nordoff I sometimes asked unsuspecting members of the public if they knew who we were and they mostly thought we were a sewing organisation or sold ice cream”! Actually, the following video shows what they do – be warned, you might have something in your eye by the end!

Going forward from 2016, Julie says that Nordoff are currently expanding the services they offer and moving into new areas which have never, until now, been able to access music therapy services and it is this that will be spearheaded by the, hopefully large, influx of funds from the BRIT awards.  Services are currently provided from the main centre in North London, the Andrew Lloyd Webber centre at the BRIT school and via a myriad of therapists who travel to NHS centres, prisons, special schools and mental health trusts to name just a few.  Over the next eighteen months or so, Nordoff is committed to expanding into Wales, Yorkshire and the North East of England as well as committing to providing services in all London boroughs.  Julie emphasised that Nordoff often “works with people in the most isolated and vulnerable settings, those who need it most” and that the expected donations from Google Play this week will enable the much needed regional expansion to happen.

So, being the official charity partner of the BRITS is of huge significance to an otherwise small charity especially when you consider that they receive no government funding at all.  Day to day running costs are funded through a number of fundraising events, corporate fundraising events and partnerships and donations from the public.  Of course, I asked Julie about the importance of Nordoff’s celebrity ambassadors and what they bring to the charity and this is what Julie had to say about Alfie.  “Alfie Boe is someone who gives his time to support us and also, through his fans he brings a whole new set of people who are aware of Nordoff Robbins and what we do.  Having that has made us much more confident as a charity”.  The use of Alfie’s birthday each year to encourage fans to donate to Nordoff has meant more than £8,000 raised over the last five years; Alfie said  “I’m overwhelmed with the generosity shown by fans who have donated to Nordoff Robbins. I’m passionate about music education and therapy and I really appreciate every single donation.”

Alfie of course is not the only ambassador for Nordoff who makes a difference; soprano Laura Wright regularly attends fundraising events throughout the year and makes regular trips to the centre to observe music therapy sessions and engage with clients.  Interestingly, not all the official ambassadors are from world of music.  Two such are presenter Gaby Roslin, host of the Silver Clef Awards for the last few years and England cricketer, Jimmy Anderson.  Having two ambassadors outside the music world is great for Nordoff as Julie explains: “Although they are not musicians, both are connected with the importance of music and having them give their time raises awareness of our work…Jimmy Anderson gives a lot of support at corporate events and Gaby Roslin gives us as much airtime as she can.  She is very interested in the work that we do with families.”

So, with all that in mind, get ready to watch the BRIT awards on Wednesday and download the live performances via Google Play!

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Spend half an hour in the company of Michael Grubbs, the creative force behind indie band Wakey Wakey and you’ll come out with a renewed enthusiasm for old school music making – and you’ll also laugh a lot.  I recently interviewed Grubbs and his producer and long time collaborator, Chris Cubeta, to talk about Wakey Wakey’s new album, Overreactivist and I remember laughing a lot but nowhere near as much as was evident when I listened back to the interview.  I can only wish that all interviews were so enjoyable.

Overreactivist is Wakey Wakey’s third album and a radical departure from the previous pop album, Salvation, in more ways than one.  In contrast to the first album which was full of youthful expression and captured the spirit of making music with no money and no expectation of success, Salvation was a collaborative experience with a team of writers, producers and musicians and the end result turned out to be even further from Grubbs’ first intention of making a pop album.  Whilst acknowledging it was an amazing team experience, Grubbs says this experience and way of making music made him feel “disconnected from myself as a musician” and as a result he returned to the ‘old days’ and decided the next step would be to write and record an indie rock EP.  The natural choice would be to use producer Cubeta’s studio which as it turned out was shortly to be demolished (it now no longer exists).  Happily, they managed to find enough studio time to record enough material for not just an EP but a whole album.

Talking to Grubbs and Cubeta it is plain that the recording of Overreactivist was a form of therapy and respite for both of them from (Cubeta’s words) “an insane part of my life”.  Telling only a very small number of people that they were making a new album and taking the decision to only allow those people to hear it if they came to the studio meant that the two of them had complete creative control over the entire process.  Cubeta says that as a producer his job is “to find the essence of the artist at the core of the music and bring it out…to make them the best version of themselves. People connect to music that captures the artist at their core”.  Unknowingly, they did just that with the first Wakey Wakey album and in Overreactivist they have gone full circle in finding the core of the music they were making and then doing what felt right.  Happily, the urgent need to make this album quickly meant a perfect harmony in doing what was best for the song and makes for a tribute to a great collaborative partnership.

Listening to Overreactivist as a whole feels like a very personal album and indeed Grubbs confirms that this is his most personal album so far, even autobiographical.  To me, at least, the songs can be read in a number of ways with a strong political current throughout but when asked, Grubbs laughed and says that “although I am very political in my personal life…at home, I make an effort not to be on the right or the left publicly as I don’t want to spend my life justifying my position”.  Grubbs then goes on to talk about the “undeniable reality that people don’t pay for music anymore, people don’t pay to support artists in the way that they used to.  How did we get here?  How am I supposed to support myself as an artist?”  These are questions that are brought together in the stand out song of the album, Homeless Poets and in a previous interview Grubbs touched further on the ups and downs of braving the creative dream. I love the video so much I have to show it to you again (Buster the dog is a superstar in the making):

Leaving aside the political undertones for a moment, Overreactivist is an album that challenges the listener on many levels; there is an upbeat message and sound throughout although there is also a touch of  disilusionment  (Golden’s”if I believed all the things we said when we were young I’d be a broken man with a broken heart and broken dreams”) apparent too. Listening to the album left me with a strong emotional connection to the music, it hangs together very well as a whole and this is due in part to the arrangement and structure of the songs.  Grubbs wrote all the songs and proves to be an accomplished songwriter; his early musical influences of Billy Joel and Elton John are apparent with the piano driven melodies.  Having said that, the guitar playing of Chris Cubeta is one of the many joys of this album.

Wakey Wakey are lovely people and ahead of the release of Overreactivist on 26 February they have given me a free track to share with you – told you they were nice!  If you liked Homeless Poets click here to go over to the Angry Baby blog to get your free track, Adam and Eve (my second favourite track after Homeless Poets).

Overreactivist will be released on The End records on 26 February. Pre-order the album here:


Wakey Wakey are coming to the UK in March for a short tour: click here for details and tickets

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Today saw the first showing of Alfie Boe’s first TV advert for Fisherman’s Friend lozenges!

I spoke to the agency behind the advert after the first airing earlier today and asked them why they picked Alfie.  The obvious reason was that both Alfie and Fisherman’s Friend hail from Fleetwood; put this together with Alfie’s previous operatic career and you can see why Alfie was a perfect match for a brand awareness campaign.

Of course I wanted to know what it was like working with Alfie and the agency said that he was “really lovely, nothing was too much trouble.  In fact, when Alfie was required to hit the bum note, he really struggled, saying that he’d never had to do that before”.  I’m sure we all agree that it’s a great result – fabulous advert!

In further news, Alfie got his very own special tin of Fisherman’s Friends… look at the size of the tin!


I understand it’s been on ITV and Sky1 – let’s see how many programmes and channels we can spot it on!  Let me know here when you do:

This might be be the first of many TV adverts for Alfie!

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