I was born in Luton in 1974 to Welsh parents. Both talented artists who met at college in Cardiff, they spent much of the next 20 years moving around England chasing work. My sister Millie, was born during this nomadic time and at a very early age inherited that natural artistic ability. I don’t know why but as soon as I came along, the family settled in Slip End, a village just outside Luton. Maybe I was such a massive pain in the arse and the thought of travelling around with me was perhaps too much to bear. I do know that I was a big cryer as a baby and the only thing that would stop me crying was music. Mum and Dad had a huge passion for music, particularly classical. During our childhood, Millie and I were regularly taken to museums, galleries and concerts. We were a lower-middle class family and these things didn’t come cheap even back then. I remember sitting in the Royal Albert Hall, mesmerised by the power of a full orchestra to paint pictures in my mind. Dad sang in the Vauxhall Male Voice Choir and Mum sang in the Luton Choral Society, both of them performing in front of way bigger audiences than I ever have. I can’t tell you how many of their concerts I’ve attended. It was probably cheaper than a babysitter and besides, I was completely theatre-trained. Only by the time I was in my late teens did it dawn on me that they had sacrificed so much of the usual stuff in order to expose us to the things that they loved and wanted to share.
From a very early age and as soon as I learned how, I loved putting records on a turntable while sitting and drawing pictures, usually of my Luton Town FC heroes or Star Wars characters. I’d listen to Bill Hayley followed by Bach and round it off with Abba and The Beatles. Millie was 8 years older than me and when she hit her teens I would steal the records and tapes from her room and that lifted up a lid I could never put back. Pop music was in full flow by the eighties with so many exciting styles, new sounds, colours, crazy characters and excesses. We also had Top Of The Pops, The Tube and The Chart Show plus virtually every TV show had a spot devoted to the pop stars of the time. The saturation was massive, totally unavoidable, music flew off the shelves and the stars became mega rich and adored like superheroes. In the internet free world, there was an alluring mystery to these people. We would see them perform, say a few words and then disappear. We were left to work out what songs were about with only a few sleeve notes as a clue to what the lyrics meant. I loved the whole package, the challenge of ‘getting it’ when it was new and then understanding it.
School was hell. The only thing I seemed to be good at was Art and I floated between different social groups as I struggled to fit in with anyone for very long. I also found it hard to make anything stick in my head, needing twice as long as most kids to read a text book or grasp a maths problem. It took ages for something to sink in and I knew I wasn’t thick but I still felt stupid. I was dyslexic, but I didn’t know it then. As a typical boy, I didn’t make a fuss or say I was struggling, I just covered it up and pretended I didn’t care. I believe if it had been now, it would have got picked up but back then teachers were victims of Thatcher’s government and spent days on strike, refused to do any extra curricular activities and didn’t care enough to put extra time into a situation like mine. For most of my teens, to take my mind away from the frustration, I got stuck into various sports away from school. I played football, ran track and cross countries, played hockey and anything else I could get into. I scraped through my GCSEs and only just qualified for A levels but I was bloody fit.
Around this time, Millie introduced me to Bob Dylan. He blew my mind and like a lot of people, once Dylan cracks your nut, everything else starts to flow in. Blues, Jazz, Folk, Rock, Punk and everything in between. John Lee Hooker, The Stones, Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Pink Floyd, and many other pioneers who lead me to more and more discoveries. As usual, nothing was off limits. Depeche Mode would follow The Kinks who followed The Prodigy who followed Talking Heads who followed Pop Will Eat Itself. I’d hang out with my raver mates, then go home and listen to Simon & Garfunkel.
By sixth-form I had totally lost faith in the system. Inspired by Bowie and nineties U2, I reinvented myself as a self-opinionated, argumentative arsehole artist with zero respect for the ‘the man’ or in this case, underpaid teachers. What a dick. I thought it was cool at the time but it was just another way of putting up a wall and covering up how depressed I was. I scraped through my A levels and a huge weight lifted as I left school for last time.
Then a series of things happened that changed my life. I got my hands on a guitar and started writing songs. I went to art college, had my mind expanded and gained a liberating creative fearlessness.
Yep, those trousers are silver
I’ve been writing songs and performing them live since the early nineties. I started in a covers band, which I think is the best way to learn performance skills and understand what makes great music. It’s also the place to make mistakes in front of an audience without the pressure of it putting people off your own material.
Crying Blue (Karl, Keith, Lucy, Mark, Martin and myself) was a blues/rock outfit playing mostly standards from the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was great for a while but the novelty began to wear off after a couple of years. As a singer and a pretty poor instrumentalist, I started to feel like I was doing karaoke and we were an expensive juke-box. I understand that many good musicians want to play, perform and continue to improve their craft. If you're going to do that then why not play the greats the audience already know and because they want to hear it, will be on your side?
For me though, it quickly became all about painting the picture or telling the story so I began to push for more of the songs I was writing to go into the band’s setlist. This is a difficult leap to make for many musicians. Who want’s to make life harder for themselves by asking their audience to be patient and in the process earn less money? Bit by bit we started to drift apart, not only as band members but also as friends. As anyone who’s been through a band break-up will tell you, it’s a horrible experience filled with bitterness and contempt where there was once love and respect. It’s like a messy divorce with no lawyers or money involved.
Fuelled with an ‘I’ll show them’ anger, I ran headlong into forming another band - ESC. The songs came quicker than it took to find band members. I’d fallen love with Dylan, protest songs and a wider world view that artists had in the ’60s and ’70s. I loved the sounds of the ’80s and early ’90s but the lyrical content generally felt very superficial and narcissistic.
To be honest, ESC (Lucy, Mark, Den, myself, Scott then Stuart) were a bunch of misfits in age, style and musical taste but I felt liberated playing my own songs to a different audience who were looking for something new. A lot of the songs were hastily written and pretty shit. We never really gelled so the sound was often that of a grinding and crashing of instruments competing with each other but I learned so much from those guys. We played each other our music and influences when we chilled out together or we went out making friends with like minded people. I had joined a creative, open minded community and the enjoyment returned.
We went into a studio (the first one we stumbled across) and recorded an EP called ‘Living A Dream’. An appropriate title as although we weren’t living the dream, we were doing a great job of pretending that we were. I was just out of my teens and these were great times until the gigs turned into massive piss-ups, the performances became shambolic and the local music scene became unfriendly and fractured. It was the era of the Blur and Oasis rivalry and I don’t know if that was inspiring bands to be dicks to each other but the scene collapsed and along with it, so did we. I was naive and took myself way too seriously but I had no interest in all that chest beating and trash talk, I always tried to find the positive and take pleasure in other people’s music. I had enough mental issues as it was, not that I recognised it then.
A year or two went by then Lucy and myself formed Juicy - an electronic duo at a time when they were hugely out of fashion. We wrote a lot of new songs, recorded an EP and re-worked some old ones so that we could play them live in that style. It was a mixed reception to start, with some audiences walking out before we started playing once they realised there was no drum kit or guitar. Stubbornly we pushed on and we were just starting to win people over when Lucy could no longer continue. She had been struggling with chronic back pain for years but it had reached the point where it was so bad that she could barely walk and we were applying for disability status. We focused everything on getting her the spinal surgery she needed. It was a total success but by the time she was fully recovered two years had passed, equipment had been sold and our jobs had taken over.
Lucy is the one person who has been with me on this entire trip. We met at art college in 1992 and we’ve been together ever since. We’d only been seeing each other for about six months when Lucy was asked to join Crying Blue as keyboard player and despite some doubts, she went for it. She’s put up with a lot over the years from “Oh god, the singer’s bird is in the band” and “Do you know the band? They’re good aren't they” from audiences to “You always take Loz’s side” or “Loz only does what you tell him” from band members. She has encouraged me to push on when things have seemed hopeless and she’s been critical to the creative process, offering up sometimes brutally honest opinions and directly contributing to the music and lyrics. You can't stop a bipolar artist from being too high or too low but she tries and often succeeds through the love and trust we share. We work and play really well together and finally got married in 2015.
Anyway, it wasn't until 2005 that I got the bug back. I started writing in my spare time, experimenting with recording at home in a very ‘Heath Robinson’ spare room studio. I had about seven or eight songs which I liked but I was really lacking in confidence. It had been a while.
At the time I was doing some graphic design work for a small indie record label called Jam Central (JCR) and I played the songs to the owners Rob and Den (ESC’s former drummer) for their opinion. Honestly, I was genuinely surprised and excited when they suggested JCR release it to test the water. That turned to fear when they also pointed out that it should probably be played live to promote it. I was low on confidence with a general anxiety around musicians and for the first time, I had music with my name on it rather than a band name to hide behind. After ‘Not The Only One’ was released, I needed the safety net of people I knew, a comfort blanket of friends, if I was going to get out and perform again. With that in mind, Lucy and I started out to persuade friends to join what we hoped would be a band with a family mentality. Keith, who I’d seen become a great bass player since leaving Crying Blue had an empathetic sense of what was good for a song and was the first to join. We’d remained good friends and he was top of our list. We had to work pretty hard to track down Stuart. We’d lost touch over the years since ESC finished and I felt awful about it as we’d become such good friends. His natural ability to understand the difference between the precise complexities of recording and the looser, raw dynamics of a live performance is a rare and invaluable thing in a musician. Also, for a talented guitarist, he manages to keep his ego under relative control. Natalie was Keith’s partner and we had become great friends over a few years before. She had an excellent voice with a unique tone and we managed to persuade her to share the load on keys with Lucy. Her contribution to the band became more important than I could have imagined. While I worked on the songs and the direction, Natalie built and then embodied the spirited energy of the band. Finally, there was Rob. The only person I hadn’t known before, he covered for us on drums at one of our first gigs. Instantly clicking with Keith, picking up and driving the right pace after only a single rehearsal was outstanding. So after that gig, we got him drunk and persuaded him to take the job permanently.
It’s the happiest I’ve ever felt in a band. Everyone felt in control of their part and also felt they could air their ideas without that uncomfortable feeling of treading on toes. They were low on ego and high on confidence with empathy for the good of the songs.
We played some great gigs to large audiences at times and shared stages with some very well known artists. Of course, like any success, you have to know the right people but in turn, they need to trust that you’ll deliver a performance and entertain. The six of us were very good live, there was a chemistry through friendship and I wanted capture it.
‘Spoiling It For Everyone’ was the first album and the most collaborative recording I’ve done. We worked hard over sixteen weeks in 2008 together with producer Jamie Masters at Echo Studios creating eleven songs that told my stories and social observations but also demonstrated the energy of our live performances. I’m immensely proud of this album and it received a lot of great reviews but also rubbed a few people up the wrong way. This is bad news for budding celebrities but not for someone aspiring to be a credible artist with something to say. The beauty of art is that there’s more than one way to view it. There are those though, who confuse criticism with personal attacks and a few viewed the single ‘Idiot Room’ as a dig at the working person by a rich toff who doesn't work. I’m not of course but even if I was, no one deserves aggressive and sometimes anonymous abuse. I suppressed the desire to respond, filing it under ‘personal opinion’ which was probably not good for my health in hindsight. The following year, the gigs got bigger and better, we were getting regular airplay and did countless radio sessions. We recorded a video for ‘Idiot Room’ on a shoestring budget which turned out to be one of the best days of my life, surrounded by friends and laughing all day. We worked hard but it was great fun.
We had done well but perhaps not well enough to make that next step up to a wider, national or even international audience. I’ll never know the reasons why we hit a glass ceiling especially when everyone around you says you're great. I can guess at reasons, like being ‘the wrong side of thirty’ or having music that is hard to pigeon hole but you never get to know for sure. It was disappointing but I felt we were on a rung of the ladder and this was a platform to push for the next level. For half of us though, that was enough and it was time to move on to the next chapter of their lives. Keith, Natalie and Rob moved on. The other half that were left felt gutted. I was heartbroken and it took six months of Stuart and Lucy kicking me up the arse to go again.
Garry joined on bass and vocals and James was our new drummer. Rearrangements were worked on in rehearsals as we were now a five piece. Garry and James were very different musicians to Keith and Rob and it took some getting used to, so it was almost a year by the time we were back. The first few gigs were amazing though and it felt pretty fresh and new. I was really surprised how good we were. We returned to Echo Studios in 2012 to record four new songs for an EP called ‘The Futile Adventures Of Bitter And Twisted’. The sessions went smoothly and the result was really good but for me, it was agony. I felt flat during the whole process, something wasn't right and I lost my temper far too often after those weeks in the studio. The promo, photoshoots, radio sessions and gigs continued and all went very well but inside, I was on auto-pilot and I couldn't shake it. I stopped booking gigs, then rehearsals and then updating the website and social media before telling the band I was tired and I needed a break. I felt awful and ashamed at letting them down, especially Garry, who is a great friend and James who we were just getting to know. They're both fantastic musicians and must have been wondering what they’d done wrong. I had no idea what was going on either but all was to become clear five years later.
So here we are in 2020 and I’ve got the buzz back. It’s been a tough hill to climb but here’s a new album covering my experiences of the last five or six years - Carrot Shaped Stick. 13 songs about aspiration, disconnection, desperation, love and resurrection.
The sounds and styles I’ve experienced and people I’ve met along the way have had a major influence on me. So if you know me and you're reading this, thank you. I’ve always prided myself on being pretty open minded when it comes to different arts and cultures. Now though, I also have to combat over-forties dismissiveness. When you're young, you're like a sponge and open to all experiences but as you get older and those experiences have built up into a huge catalogue, it becomes more difficult to find space for new things. The trick is not to be cynical and dismiss something because initially, your experience leads you to believe you've already heard or seen it before.
I’m still trying, not to stay young or write ‘trendy’ music, but to explore, absorb and understand these new experiences, whenever or wherever they were created. I hope I never lose that desire.
Click on an album cover to learn more:
Aw, so young and innocent
Natalie, Rob, Keith, myself, Stuart and Lucy
Stuart, Garry, myself, James and Lucy
Not The Only One
Spoiling It For Everyone
The Futile Adventures Of
Bitter & Twisted
Carrot Shaped Stick