I first met my fiancée Georgina in 2017, a friend once shared with me that as a child she was told two things, ‘never marry an Australian, or ride a motorbike.’ That was never going to work with me!I guess my path was always going to be one of adventure. In March 2022, I emigrated to Australia to be with my partner’s family and to broaden my artistic horizon. It is my intention to stage further innovative productions of alternative Musical Theatre, and to continue evolving Punchy! with audiences expected in New York and throughout Europe. Ride on Wild Horse!
All the threads and perhaps even the archetypal story arcs of my life converged in 2021, amidst the fragile backdrop of a global pandemic. I was closing the circle on the 'hero’s journey' that each of us are inevitably on. The songs from the ‘What My Soul Told Me’ record honoured different personal chapters of my life and provided a home at last, for my various musical experiments and incarnations over the years. Pride isn't the word here, because achievement is often something viewed through the lens of the ego, as opposed to fulfilment which has an altogether different vibration.
I had listened to the whispered instructions of my Soul until the work it had inspired in me, could be embodied on a London Theatre stage. The positive reviews or press coverage were superseded in their value by the individual stories audience members shared with me post-performance. One such lady, at the age of 82, walked two hours in the rain from Tottenham, to come and see the show, and shared with me afterwards the solace and joy it engendered in her. Another attendee was visibly moved by the transformational qualities the character Soul possesses in our show. Consequently, she rather beautifully informed me that Punchy! had sparked the courage for her to write up the story of her late-Grandma’s letters, in honour of the Windrush generation before her. In these moments, art really does offer us transcendental gifts to expand into more of who we really are. It is in service of this, that I will always continue to create.
At the end of 2019 music industry consultant and highly regarded British R’nB Royalty, Kwame Kwaten (D’Influence) connected me with triple platinum Record Producer Steve Brown (Laura Mvula/Rumer) to collaborate on a new song I had written (‘Good Luck!’) whilst on my first visit to Australia. I recall, in the meeting back in London, stomping and humming the song in a bar in Soho, whilst Kwame, enlivened by my enthusiasm, connected the dots. Steve and I hit it off instantly, with a shared love of the eclectic sounds of the 60’s and 70s. We set about creating ‘Good Luck!’ imagining how the Stones, or Talking Heads would approach the recording in 2020. I thought I would be in with Steve for just that one single. However, the sessions expanded with Steve offering executive production and sometimes whole-scale reconstruction, of songs from what was now clearly becoming a 13 song Punchy! Soundtrack.
Steve and I, both originally of working class stock, “can ‘alf jaw” and so a lot of the time was spent discussing the merits of Everley Brother records, or Stevie’s synth sounds. We quickly realised that between the two of us, we could emulate the sound of a four-piece band or even full orchestral arrangements. For example, we were the only live instrumentalists on ‘The Day’, ‘Courage’ and ‘The Wall’. It was very poignant for me to see how moved Steve was after I finished performing the piano track demo of ‘The Day’ and ‘The Wall’ - sometimes beautiful things happen in a recording studio that leave an imprint on the space.
The esteemed filmmaker Johny Morgue and I collaborated on a trilogy of music videos from 2019-2021, featuring an array of talent from film actors Ed Coleman & Tawheda Begum, through to Light Heavyweight British Champion Boxer, Frank Buglioni. It was a deeply fulfilling to co-create with Johny and visualise stories that amplified my music’s impact, each time attempting to push and evolve our respective artistry.
Everybody Needs Love was shot on 16mm analog film, consequently, we really had a limited amount of takes to get it right! Let’s just say things didn’t quite go to plan, when the vintage Porsche’s engine that we hired began to smoke in the middle of Marylebone! I stayed for the car rescue service (waiting 9 hours for a specialist tow truck) whilst filming continued, only to find out in post, that we didn’t have enough in the can for our storyboard! The following weekend, we reshot, with a vintage Ford Mustang to greater effect, and the video was eventually graded at the prestigious Framestore (Marvel & Bond films).
Our efforts were rewarded with the song and video being honoured with ‘Best New Music Video’ at Pinewood Studios later that year. Through this award ceremony, I was able to connect with Director Amanda Noar and Playwright Kevin McMahon. Kevin would ultimately write the dialogue for Punchy! bringing the story I had written into full technicolour.
The acorn that was the idea of Punchy! had now firmly taken root, and I began to pull-in ideas from various sources. I feel blessed and privileged to have known my Mum in this lifetime. She also happens to be a fine raconteur and writer herself, and it was her short true-story of a young man nicknamed Punchy, based on her childhood in 1950’s Islington that gripped my imagination. Richard, and the performance coach, Tessa Berkelmans and I, headed to Richard’s villa in Tuscany to define this heady mix of ingredients further. I couldn’t quite fathom how within my songwriting arsenal over the years, I had just the song to fit core characters, or the feelings within key scenes.
Richard Barrett’s belief in the oneness of all things from a soul consciousness perspective, would often lead him to say things like, ‘Jack there’s only one of us here having this conversation’ - this often amused me, as I also feel that to be true. The vibration of this message, enabled me to write, what is perhaps lyrically, one of my favourite songs, ‘What My Soul Told Me’ - the title of which also happens to be the title of Richard’s book.
After the reappearance of the ‘black dog’ of depression for a brief period toward the end of 2016, a friend shared with me a book by the author, Richard Barrett. The themes of Richard’s book (‘What My Soul Told Me’) profoundly resonated with me, and so I decided to email him. In a bizarre twist of fate, we were on a call within 20 minutes, and the beginning of a beautiful friendship emerged. Little did I know then, that upon attending a retreat hosted by Richard in November 2017 (as part of the Humanity Awareness Initiative) we would decide to merge my music with his Barrett Model, to create a new musical exploring Ego/Soul dynamics. I was not the greatest fan of the more artificial elements of the musical theatre genre, however, this innovative idea was something that gripped my imagination, and would not leave me be...
Before Punchy! there was the Arnos Groove. In 2016, I pivoted away from live performance and delved deeper into Record Production. I recall Quincy Jones once remarking that ‘everyone can do their thing solo’ before he extolling the virtue of assembling a team. Arnos Groove became a collective of session musicians and artistic collaborators. Much of the songs on the Punchy! Soundtrack started their life as part of a rare groove producer-led R&B/Soul Album.
I liked the idea of having different featured artists record my songs, most notably Nia Ekanem who delivered the Wilson Pickett inspired vocal I was seeking. At one stage, I had 13 musicians in the collective. However, two people, in particular, were foundational to the ‘Arnos Groove’ sound, Louisa Evangelou, (co-writer of ‘Honest Lover’) and my brother-in-spirit, Tony Louis Fernand, whose tasteful drumming can be heard across 9 of the 13 songs from the soundtrack. These sessions largely took place in a live room in Mill Hill Studios - and what good vibes! Songs recorded or remixed that year were: Honest Lover, Tough Love, Be My Angel & Arnos Groove
Chris has been a mentor and friend for as long as I can remember, and behind the scenes, an invaluable guide for my career. Here we are on one of many ‘away days’. Chris' creative viewpoint is one of few that I trust to edit my written work and beyond that, help me obtain a clarity in creative decision-making. I am deeply grateful for this man's influence in emboldening me to take the road less travelled, particularly with his dramaturgical support of my theatre projects and music videos.
This was a year where I had a second influx of songs where the stream was running freely, and my influences and musical experience converged to deliver a weight of song that I was proud of. There’s no coincidence that such songs were wrought from the remnants of a loved lost, or the lessons I had integrated in recovering from the fog of depression. My life experience had caught up with my creativity’s sensibilities, and although I still was unsure of how such diverse genres would hang together, I was pleased with that year’s output. I wrote an ode to Shel Silverstein via ‘Mrs Jameson’ and exorcised the demons of a loved lost with ‘Wild Horse.’ The social commentary of ‘Fight!’ and it honoured the impact James Brown’s music had on me pointed toward reasons in remaining hopeful.
The title for this year’s caption is taken from David Wagoner’s poem ‘Lost’. Living a creative life is a continual exploration. Therefore, by the nature of exploring, sometimes we feel like we are lost. However, just like David’s poem, you can orient yourself homeward, if you reconnect to the source of creation itself. I feel creating anything is an excavation of what already exists as ‘buried treasure within’ like another poet Jack Gilbert would say.
My musical experiments would often lead me down seemingly blind alleys, and yet somehow, I could still pluck songs from the ether, their purpose hidden until long after the event. Sometimes, you just have to hang in there. In this year, I wrote ‘Everybody Needs Love’, in a zap of inspiration, after a glorious summer's day in my family’s garden with my then muse. I had know idea at the time, that it would be the rousing closing number of Punchy!
Although I no longer feel compelled to play live, between 2012-2014 there was a concerted effort to test out my songs with a live audience and gauge their feedback. My nature has always been somewhat of a homebody, and I find my pleasure largely in the writing of music over performing it. Nonetheless, I played with live bands in venues across London, from Underbelly in Hoxton, to the Cuban in Camden, it was a helpful way of escaping the echo chamber of the recording studio and evolving my material - you only hear your songs for the first time until they connect with an audience.
My Uncle Greg was a Soul Boy during 1970’s and went to school in Brixton where he soaked up a passion for Dub Reggae too. I would join him and his pals on a Friday night to jam out an eclectic list of songs from around that era. These occasions often descended into chaos, lots of alcohol infused shouting at each other whether we would play Toots and The Maytals or Dennis Brown next! Sometimes the rehearsal room was so fogged out with special coriander that you’d look around for the bass player and he would be whiteout on the floor. It doesn’t sound like it was productive, however, in truth, it really was a culturally rich unofficial music education. Where else could you learn T-Rex songs inside out, followed by Brenton Wood’s ‘Gimme Little Sign’?
It only ever sounds like an actual ‘record’ until Jon has finished mastering it. There isn’t a song that I’ve released that Jon hasn’t mastered for me. In the early days I would sit in and observe him execute each master in real-time, twisting and turning an array of dials like a studio Jedi, as the mix unfolded before him. These days I trust his ear and understanding of the science of audio to work remotely. I recall on one occasion, observing a mandolin in his studio, that Jon (in his self-effacing manner) informed me was left behind by Jimi Hendrix, after a session he was working on at Air Studios. One of many stories I liked to draw out of him. I love the analogue warmth that records of that era had, and Jon continues to deliver that sound for me today in over a decade of collaboration.
A shadow formed around this rich spell of creativity, I experienced it as the paralysis of perfectionism. However, at the root of this was a far more insidious source of trauma, that I was unaware of, and which began to exert a destructive force through subconscious patterns of harmful behaviour, sometimes numbed by marajuana, alcohol and ill-thought decisions.
Overcoming OCD is perhaps the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do on this earthly plane, I see now that it was simply my body-mind’s coping mechanism, an embodied response to trauma. There was a period where I was bereft of all hope of recovery. It wasn’t till I had become conscious of Ego/Soul dynamics and the source of the pain, that I was free to live whole again. Music was more than a salve for the wound, it became a life saving pursuit. I wrote ‘The Wall’ at this time.
I have yet to see natural light as pristine as it is in rural Denmark, the stillness of Nature seeped into my bones and informed my songwriting in this period. Nic, his wife Kirsten and I would break from recording and hike the surrounding area. These sojourns were labelled ‘headless hikes’, as we often found ourselves lost between one river or another.
I am reminded of George Harrison’s lyric, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’ The hikes were a great way of grounding myself in-between the rush of recording new material. I remember dancing to KC & The Sunshine Band with Nic’s daughter Emile and copious cups of tea, whilst reading ‘The Week’ magazine from a cosy guest room, it was a blissful, almost magical time.
My first studio mentor was the Composer and Musical Director Nic Rowley (The Supremes/Dire Straits). I would fly almost weekly between London to Denmark for a period of 2 years, cutting my teeth in record production. This is one of my fondest musical memories, as ever the curious soul I had limitless questions, (‘Why did you tape delay that instrument?’ or ‘Why select that reverb setting?’) which Nic patiently answered!
The songs recorded in this period are truly cherished because of the alchemy that occurs when you mix the feeling of ‘new’ and untempered creativity, with seasoned experience and studio craft. The Vandborg Sessions were a unique vortex in time, the fruits of which I will be remastering and updating for my second musical and first-ever theatre show in Australia.
After leaving school at 16 I experienced a lightning bolt surge of creativity, an abundant download from the ether. Songs such as Be My Angel and Courage were written in this period. 5 different singers later and I finally found the soul singer Charlene, to perfectly deliver the soaring vocal sound I was seeking. Tough Love was also written at the piano during this time, in what could only be described as a ‘waking dream’ with unworldly instructions for the gospel key change ending. At the time, I was heavily inspired by James Brown, Stax Records, The Platters and other Doo-Wop songs.