Hello Sam, how are you?
I’m well thanks!
Congratulations on the release of “Sing It Out” how does it feel?
It feels great to put my music out into the world – in fact there’s always that feeling in your stomach when you release music as you’re having to get vulnerable in front of people. But mainly it is exhilarating bringing something out into the world that you’ve sat with for a long time!
What’s the story behind it?
The song is a way of me processing my experience working with The Choir With No Name – a choir for people whose lives have been affected by homelessness. It’s mainly about the cathartic feeling of singing. Loads of choir leaders and rock stars often shout out to the choir or to their audience and say, “Sing it Out” meaning – ‘project your voices’ or ‘sing louder’. Working with The Choir With No Name I found something different happening – another meaning in this phrase. I found people were coming to the choir sessions carrying all kinds of worries/anxieties/stresses/addictions and nobody needed to tell them to sing with more passion! The sound is huge! I discovered people were coming to ‘sing it out of their systems, sing it out of their bodies, sing it out of their bloodstream’ (words from the chorus of Sing it Out) – there was something cathartic going on. And people would leave the sessions smiling, skipping, laughing. That’s what the song is about.
The song goes on a bit of a journey with a brooding Billie Jean sparse drum beat as someone walks into the choir for the first time – then there’s a sideways harmonic shift in the pre-chorus as we are lifted into a wonderland and the lyrics take us onto a stage with all the glitz and lights, it’s a kind of Rufus Wainwright moment! – then the chorus lands with a heavy, stompy worksong not out of place in a Rag’n’bone Man song.
You are a London based singer songwriter how did it all begin for you?
My parents got me this ‘all-in-one’ Amstrad stereo when I was 11 – which was just about held together with dodgy plywood. But it had a 4 track music recorder on it and it came with microphones with primary colour sponge tops – I recorded my first songs on that with my Casio keyboard! I’m still quite proud of ‘You are the only one’ written aged 11… since then I’ve always written songs – as many people do as a kind of journal. I’ve been performing on stages all round the world with my jazz band Jazzbomb – performing shows and also entertaining at events. We’ve performed in Monaco, Dubai, Geneva, Baku and all across the UK – we’ve worked with all kinds of famous names aloing with way for example: James Corden, Graham Norton, Miranda Hart. It’s been a great way to learn stage craft and that illusive skill of engaging any audience.
My album ‘Back into Life’ has that name because the songs stretch back to about 2004 when I wrote ‘You Love Me In’ – it’s a trip Back into my Life. It’s also a title that looks forward as we start to emerge from the pandemic the songs are full of a call to take hold of the things that bring a richness to our lives and plunge Back Into Life. I started gigging these songs in 2016 with regular gigs at The Pheasantry Jazz Club in Chelsea and it was awesome to perform the whole album live with my amazing band at the beautiful Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush at the end of November for the album launch gig.
What did you listen to growing up?
My first albums were Michael Jackson, Dire Straits and Duran Duran. I still love all of that music – really great song-writing, great melodies and punchy production. A bit later I loved the acid jazz movement – bands like Incognito and The Brand New Heavies, I was getting into jazz and these artists combined all the harmonies and virtuosity I loved with great songs and great beats.
You’re quite a chameleon – singer songwriter, and choir leader, what got you interested in working with choirs?
I’ve always sung in choirs – through school and church – but in the last 15 or so years there has been a movement across this nation – a really positive movement of people joining community choirs – spurred on by the TV work of Gareth Malone and others. I accompanied an amazing leader for a couple of years and watched all their amazing tricks of how to get amazing music out of people with no musical education… and then decided to give it go myself. I set up a choir in Hammersmith with my wife and we had so many people telling us the amazing well-being benefits of being part of the choir and how it was helping their mental and physical health. So when the opportunity came to apply to start a new choir in South London with the Choir With No Name I jumped at the chance. I love the support and impact that choir communities make in people’s lives and have tried to take this where it’s needed most. I’ve now led the Choir With No Name in London for 9 years. I spent a few years running a choir for women whose children had been taken into care we called it ‘the incredible women’s choir’ and have also run projects in prisons and with people with disabilities.
You work most notably with The Choir With No Name a choir that is known for its work with the homeless and marginalised, how did that come about? (see above)
What’s been a stand out moment with working with them?
We had one choir member who wouldn’t sit with us for the first few weeks of coming along to the choir. He would sit watching us in the corner. Slowly he felt safe enough to join in a bit more. We soon discovered that somewhere inside he had a voice that sounded just like David Bowie. Move on a couple of years and we were invited to perform at the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of their Bowie exhibition. It was amazing to see this guy receive a standing ovation as he sang solo on ‘Heroes’. So many stories like this where people have grown so powerfully in confidence and then received such applause. (This just gave me a goosebump moment. WOW! Del.)
What’s your favourite song to sing with a choir?
I love singing ‘Happy Together’ by the Turtles – it works brilliantly in a two part round – and just feels amazing to sing – I don’t know a happier song! I love taking it into hostels when I run workshops and you can take any group of people from zero to hero in a very short time with this song and everyone leaves feeling amazing. We did a cheeky cover of this on my album launch – with full brass! It was a real joyfest!
COVID has impacted the creative industry in a big way what kept you motivated?
March 2020!! Can you remember it?! Those few weeks were sucker punch after sucker punch of emails and phone calls cancelling all my work – my wife is also a musician so we both went through this together. At the same time a friend of mine dared me to write a parody song of Come On Eileen changing the words to COVID 19. The song expressed the fears and confusion we all had at that time – and also mocked the stockpiling of toilet roll that was going on. Amidst the sucker punches of losing work it was also a treat to see this song racking up 100,000 views a day on Youtube. It settled at about 1.27 million views. I wrote a further 8 or 9 parodies which now serve as a bit of a chronicle of the times and kept us smiling through the miserable times.
The pandemic also hit just as I was recording my album Back Into Life – so I ended up finishing most of the vocals from under a duvet at home and sending them off to my producer – finishing the album remotely. It gave me time to really get into the songs and craft the vocals how I wanted them – so that was quite a gift.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I have got so many amazing musician friends releasing their music at the moment so I’ve been listening to them! Tenderland, Lilly Unwin… but also Jacob Collier is never far away from my playlists. I love the gorgeous vocals of Säje. I have three primary school aged children so ‘What does the fox say’ is on permanent rotation in our house! Thankfully it’s a great song!
What is next for you?
The very immediate future involves me signing and sending out stacks of CDs people bought through my crowdfund campaign for the album and that people have bought through my bandcamp page for Christmas presents!!
It was an utter thrill to perform the album at Bush Hall in November and so great to see people responding to the tunes in a live setting. So I’ll be getting in some more dates in the coming year to take the band out with this album and there are some festival plans too.
Special thanks to Sophie @ Quite Great