Q: When did you first become interested in music?
A: Neither of my parents are particularly musical, but I remember them playing lots of music whilst I was growing up. There was a collection of LPs that my sisters and I weren't supposed to touch without supervision (as the owner of a vinyl collection now, I completely understand why!) but inevitably we'd sneak in and give the records a spin – usually the ones with colourful artwork, like ELO or Supertramp's Breakfast in America. Many of the artists my parents played influenced my musical preferences later in life; REM, Fleetwood Mac, The Pretenders, The Jam, David Bowie – nothing very 'out there', just great music.
Of course, I listened to some complete rubbish too, and went through multiple phases during my early teens, including a slightly embarrassing pop punk and nu-metal period. The mid-2000s were my more formative years, when I started going to gigs and listening to many of the artists I still love today. For me, music is a journey of discovery that, I hope, will last a lifetime. Nothing beats the thrill of hearing a perfectly crafted song for the very first time.
Q: Did your love of music ever lead you to play an instrument?
A: Towards the end of primary school a friend was learning the cornet (a small brass instrument) and I thought it looked fun. As the school didn’t have any cornets left, I started learning the trumpet instead, and while I wouldn't say I'm a natural musician, I'm not someone who gives up very easily. I continued to play right through secondary school and into college, where I studied A Level Music and learnt to play classic jazz numbers like Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘A Night in Tunisia’ and Miles Davis’ ‘So What’.
Eventually I switched my allegiances to the electric guitar, which I can confirm gives you slightly more street cred. I'd played in bands with my mates since age 14, covering songs by artists as varied as Jimi Hendrix, Wishbone Ash, The Strokes, The Knack, The Undertones, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as jamming our own material. In 2007 we finally bit the bullet and accepted our first gig, supporting a Birmingham band managed by Charlatans’ drummer John Brookes, who paid us £25 – enough for a couple of pints each!
It was the start of a six-year stint as a band, which saw us play venues across the Midlands, Manchester and London, including the O2 Indigo, Wolverhampton's Wulfrun Hall, and the main room at Birmingham's O2 Academy, a venue I’d dreamed of playing after seeing some of my favourite bands there. But we would also run our own nights at local venues, paying around £30 for the space, selling tickets for £3 each and letting the venue keep the bar takings (we were careful to choose the pubs and bars that took a relaxed approach to IDing younger clientele). These were some of the most memorable gigs.
Q: What was your encore song?
A: Although we performed a lot of original material, we would often encore with 'View from the Afternoon' by Arctic Monkeys. It's a first-album track that's beloved by the band's fans and, on a good night, would stir up a mosh pit in the crowd. The drumming on that song is insane – Matt Helders is a beast! – but luckily we had a superb drummer. Anyone who’s played in a live band can testify that decent drummers are hard to come by.
Q: Were you always writing about music, even back then?
A: I didn’t start writing about music until 2012, towards the end of my time at university, which was when the band split up. For a while I wrote album reviews for a now-defunct blog called Poejazzi and reviewed live acts for the Birmingham-based magazine Counteract. Both great publications, but the downside was that neither paid its writers (and, in fairness, probably didn’t make enough profit to do so). Still, as a young writer, it was great to see my name on the byline, and writing for free was essential in building up experience.
Q: Favourite style of music to play vs favourite style to listen to?
A: Without a doubt, my favourite style of music to play live leans towards rock and indie music. Overdriven guitars, bluesy riffs, high-tempo drums – it's just great fun to play and easy for crowds to dance to. In terms of listening, I genuinely do try to be as eclectic as possible. A lot of people – especially in the rock scene – think of ‘pop’ as a dirty word, but I’ve never felt that way. There’s fantastic, relatable music across all genres if you’re willing to stay open-minded.
That said, old habits die hard and when I retreat to my musical safe space, it’s always folk, indie, americana and classic pop that I fall back on. As my day-to-day work involves a lot of writing and editing, I also like things I can zone out to; usually online mixes that blend trip-hop, classical, jazz and electronica.
Q: Has lockdown changed your listening habits at all?
A: Definitely. Being stuck indoors during the first lockdown was a pretty strange experience, as I’m sure it was for many of our readers, and it had its highs and lows. My girlfriend and I were both working from the kitchen table in our one-bed flat, so music played a key part in keeping us sane! Mostly folk and pop during the day. But on the evenings and weekends, or when the lockdown was getting to us, we’d turn to house, disco and indie rock to lift our mood and get us dancing round the kitchen.
I also found myself listening to a lot more radio, which I suppose could be a subconscious desire to connect with likeminded music fans, in lieu of going to gigs or parties with friends. It’s been an incredible year for music. I’ve been devouring new albums from Phoebe Bridgers, Nadine Shah, The Strokes, Taylor Swift, Blossoms, Laura Marling, Fontaines D.C., Michael Kiwanuka, Bob Dylan, The 1975, Bon Iver… the list goes on.
Q: You've worked for Pro Mobile in the past. How did that come about?
A: I was working as a marketing assistant for a steel factory in the West Midlands when I saw the job advert for a copywriter and editorial assistant at Marked Events. I had graduated from university the year before with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, so although I knew nothing about DJing, I did have two desirable qualities: the ability to craft a decent sentence and a genuine love of music. Eddie Short and Mark Walsh gave me the job and I moved up to Lancashire to work in their small marketing team. Part of the role involved writing marketing emails, brochure copy, social media posts and press releases for the brilliant BPM show. But the other aspect of the role was penning articles for Pro Mobile. Due to my lack of DJing experience, Eddie let me concentrate on pieces about music and marketing.
Q: What made you decide to leave?
A: I’d been working there for two years. The British folk singer Laura Marling had just released her fourth album, Short Movie, which was all about her freewheeling adventures across America. The throwaway suggestion that we should quit our jobs and jump on a one-way flight to the US soon turned into a reality. My girlfriend and I were both ‘working professionals’ with decent salaries, so we decided to spend the money we’d initially been saving for a house deposit on an epic year-long trip. We were worried that if we settled down too soon, we’d get itchy feet. The plan was to get it all out of our system then – and worry about jobs, houses, cats and kids further down the line!
Luckily, Eddie and Mark were completely understanding when I handed in my notice. Eddie even kept me on at the magazine as a freelance writer and proofreader, which generated much-needed cash during my travels.
Q: Travelling must have been incredible. What are some of the best memories?
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 105, Pages 48-52.