New XL Column May 2012
Its 8am and I’m sitting in front of my computer. I have just received a message that unless my article is delivered within an hour, I will miss the issue. My head hurts a little for I drank two glasses of a cheap Australian wine with too high a sugar content last night and my brain hurts because I’m now on my fourth subject matter for this column. I thought to write about Bullying but it got too dark, I thought to write about marijuana as I’ve been practically living in the studio with a group of the funniest stoners you could come across. I even started writing about tomato sauce, don’t ask why. But now I realise, that as I come to the end of recording my album, an album which has taken so much to make, I will write entirely about me.
Its fair to say that as I am finishing this third album, I am in a very different place to when I was finishing the second. After the success and change that came with my first album I found myself in a very strange place. On the one hand I had made it. Not just because of the records doing well but because I had come through undamaged, or so I thought.
From the age of 13, I went to the prestigious Westminster school in London. This ancient school was built around a beautiful courtyard at the footsteps of Westminster Abbey. My main concern however was often trying to figure out how to get around school without being noticed. My main obstacle was the courtyard, as to get from my locker to the music centre where my piano was, I actually had to cross it. Once there however, I would write. My aim was crystal clear; I wanted to figure out how to write melody. Melodies that stuck like glue, for I knew that these were power. No matter who you are, we are all prone to falling for a melody. The music centre was a small building with a narrow corridor, with many doors that opened on to small cubicles where all you would find was a piano and a chair. Others would be practicing difficult classical pieces, but I pretended I was in the Brill building in 1960s New York, where the likes of Bacharach and Carol King would be competing in similar rooms, trying to write the perfect pop song.
As people started to find out what I was up to, a very strange thing happened. Friends and teachers started grouping around trying to help in whatever way they could. My friends would help perform my pieces, listen and criticise. The school librarian would lie, saying that I was working for him two afternoons a week, just so I could have more time to write my songs. My scandalous French teacher, a former Mr Gay UK contestant who would share his experiences in drug dabbling, would listen to my music, tell me his stories, give me guidance and cover for me when I was late. My English teacher, now a famous theatre director, would give me roles to play in her shows and even started a magazine with me. I was a loner with a secret army behind me and I couldn’t have done it without them. Years later, at the Royal College of music the same thing happened all over again.
After the first album I felt disjointed and alone. I booked myself a room at the legendary Olympic Studios and stayed there for 6 months, writing at the piano and recording endless demos. At 2pm every day I would walk over to the fancy Italian restaurant across the street and eat, often alone. I missed my cubicle and upright piano but most of all I missed my gang. I missed tea with the librarian who had now moved away, the inappropriate banter with my French teacher who had died, and the arguments with my English teacher who was now famous. I missed my friend Alex playing my top lines on his dodgy oboe and singing duets in classical falsetto, like we did in Over My Shoulder. My songs were for and about them. I would write about myself to make them laugh. I would write about Billy Brown to make my French teacher embarrassed. What was I supposed to do without them?
I got through it and made a beautiful album, full of textures and melodies, but somewhere in all the music my friends were missing. After two years of touring and a horrific accident in my family, I swore that I would fix my problem and find my gang. I broke hearts and fell in love again, and travelled around fighting for sessions and looking for freaks. I found them, lots of them. I didn’t want to make the album in isolation, and if the Brill building no longer existed then I would make my own version using the internet and a lot of air miles. I found unknown people online to work with as well as famous ones, and in the end made this album with all twelve of them. Funny thing is, it has never sounded more like me. I wrote about them, stole their stories and wrote about myself for them to laugh or even to make them sad.
Fear leaves you isolated, isolation in turn creates more fear and fear leaves you closed. A little part of you dies, and not until you take the risk and open up to others can you find a way out of it. This album is called The Origin Of Love and is about a man who only grows up once he rediscovers the boy he used to be.