My father taught me to play piano by ear when I was small – one of my earliest memories was returning home from the Remembrance Day ceremony in the country churchyard in post-war Britain and playing the Last Post on the piano. Singing started at the same time but after my school years I was just a fan not a player. In 2000 I joined the great North London Jazz choir, Eclectic Voices, and in 2009 suddenly started to write my own songs and things just sped ahead from there.
2. What would be your ultimate aim in the industry?
To keep music as a pleasure! So far so good. Writing and recording sessions are highlights of my year. It would be wonderful for my songs to be enjoyed and appreciated.
3. How long have you been writing your own music?
Since May 2009 when travelling with Eclectic Voices in Spain. When young I always had an unfulfilled ambition to write music (and have been a great fan of the classic classics – Handel, Bach, Beethoven, etc.) but I have since found that for me it begins with the words and the rhythm and tune emerges from there.
4. Who are your top three influences and why?
Most definitely Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Loudon Wainwright III, for their poetic, witty, biting lyrics and for their great, though differing styles of delivery. I was a big fan of the music of the Shadows, Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez and Wood Guthrie in the 60s/70s and in more recent years Tom Waits has certainly been a great inspiration. I was also a big fan of the late Flanders and Swann for their really sharp wit and “music hall in the drawing room” style.
And now of course I owe an enormous musical debt to the band, led by the great guitarist and musician extraordinary Bruce Knapp, bassist Richard Sadler, drummer Tony Shepherd, recording engineer and co-producer Matt Knapp and the lovely vocal support of Callie Howard and Christine Axelle.
5. Is there anything you would like people to know about your current release?
As with my first album the songs vary between the light songs of love and happiness, alongside some darker themes and then those reflecting on contemporary themes –e.g. poverty, ageing, and the need for tolerance. I try to avoid being preachy and usually manage to find a silver lining somewhere.
And in this album we hear two of Shakespeare’s great characters, Hamlet and Macbeth, ruing their fate – coincidentally as we celebrate the Bard’s 450th birthday anniversary. I’ve borrowed a few of his lyrics of course. Only the best will do.
Many of my recent songs have been written deep in rural France, watching the sun set in Anguneau.
6. Where are you based and what’s your local scene like? Any favourite venues?
I live in London so am spoilt for venues. In North London the Vortex Jazz club is a wonderful little place. Union Chapel in Islington showcases many up and coming young singers. Bob Dylan has sung in the local park a few times, Loudon Wainwright III also has come close to home as well as in the central London venues, and I think it’s 40 years now since Leonard Cohen came to town. And the Rough Trade stores keep alive the ability to browse and physically buy music.
7. Who else can you recommend from your local scene for people to have a listen to?
Ana Silvera is a great London based talent: classically trained pianist and clever lyricist. Any time Eclectic Voices led by jazz musician Scott Stroman is performing everyone should hear them! The new Highbury Opera Theatre, HOT, will be premièring Stroman’s new As you like it musical on June 13th and 14th – another Shakespeare inspired feast.
The local scene in London is quite global of course. Rebekka Karijord with her lovely band from Sweden came through recently and that was an unexpected pleasure. Again when she comes through London, fado singer Mariza has to be heard. I suspect my tastes haven’t changed a great deal since their formation in the great 60s, but there are many new and inspiring performers arriving all the time.
8. Give our readers or listeners a roundup of where they can find you online and hear more of your music.
Online via iTunes, CD Baby, Spotify, Reverbnation, SoundCloud
On my website richardrhysobrien.com
On YouTube: I will be putting videos up for all the songs on the new album through the summer.