Saturday, 11 February 2012

Micky Greaney and Dan Whitehouse: hearts and souls on the line

Two great talents. Two different creative approaches. Two tracks exclusive to this post.
Richard Shakespeare at Shakeypix
I might horrify a few people here, but I hold that Adele - six Grammy awards this weekend - has a lot in common with Micky Greaney and Dan Whitehouse. Of course, Adele is now rich as Croesus; Dan and Micky certainly aren't. But like Dan and Micky, she rips out great chunks of her heart and soul and presents them in song to the listener, directly, honestly and free of artifice. She, too, is a singer-songwriter. So she still has a tough time of it.  

More than other performers, singer-songwriters need your close attention, because they have something they want to say. It can be deeply personal, intense and passionate; it can be simply the sharing of a whimsical thought. If the audience is open and accepting, a bond forms between performer and listener, and all the pieces fit. 

 When it works it’s a wonderful thing. When it doesn’t work, say in a pub where punters just don't care about what you're doing, it’s painful. A gig last month comes to mind. 

Both Micky and Dan have albums in the works. Both have let me have an exclusive track for the blog. Interviews, links and tracks all follow...

Micky Greaney
Photo by Paul Ward
Back in the day, Micky Greaney, fronting a twelve-piece band, was regularly touted as the next big thing. That sort of thing can become a burden: as many will agree, there’s little, if any, correlation between great talent and potential, and ultimate success. 

Micky cut a wonderful 1994 album, ‘Little Symphonies For The Kids’ with Bob Lamb, at his studio in Kings Heath, Birmingham (now Highbury Studio).A link to some of the songs from that album is at the bottom of the post.

But now there's two more albums in the pipeline: a further album from sessions at Abbey road with John Leckie, only now seeing the light of day, and an album that will emerge from intensive sessions going on right now with Greaney's new band. This track is a preview track from Mickey's forthcoming long-lost second album.
Now, two decades later, he’s in full flow again, working on what will only be his third album.

Are the old songs are out of date? How do you feel about them now?

There’s nothing that’s going to date the songs... All the instruments we used,  could be fifteen years in the future, or it could be now, or fifteen years ago. Anything I put on is an organic instrument. But there’s little flavours in my song-writing that are of that era, which I probably didn’t notice when I was writing. 
Your older songs stand up well. Simple arrangements with mainly acoustic instrumentation. They're remembered with a lot of affection
People want the older material, because they know it. They can be quite precious about what I do! It’s hard sometimes to simply get up with an acoustic guitar and just present new material.
But how does it feel to know that people think they’ve got a piece of you?
I feel really flattered! If they care that much, it’s a sign I must be doing something right, as a writer. And I think the new group of songs I’m working on now are really beautiful.
So as of now, there’s a gig towards the end of the month, and another one in April. It’s not exactly start-again time, but there have been hiccups along the way… 
Yes, there have been. But I would rather focus on the amazing band I'm putting together and some positive directions. In some ways, it is a new beginning - positive and beautiful like the people I'm working with. The rehearsals are very special, it's our debut gig, and that really is the most important thing to me.
Who’s in the line-up?
Me, Jason Ensa on bass (RV: hooray!), Suzie Purkis and Hannah Malloy on vocals, Chris Shobrook on piano and keyboards and Matt Rheeston on drums
And what are we going to hear on the 23rd at Symphony Hall?
You’re going to hear a solo set from me, in the first half. The second half lets me debut the band. As for the songs - people who know me will know some of them. But we’ll play some new songs.
The Symphony Hall was a remarkable success, with BIG numbers, friends, family and fans. Micky reeled off some classics and some adventurous new material. 

You’ve been working at this for some time. What about the creative process in all of that?
The process to me is like… falling in love. I’ve got really good friends, who’ve invited me to their workshops. They meet up once a week, they write a song and they record it. That’s like asking me to fall in love, at the same place and the same time, once a week. When it works, the songs just fall out. Or I can wake up, having dreamed a song.
When you put your songs out there, highly passionate, personal, intense songs, you’re laying your heart out on a table in front of people.
If you deliver, an audience is a really appreciative lover. If you don’t you get the opposite reaction. It’s like any relationship. You can get complacent.
 Dan Whitehouse

Back in the 1998 days of Micky Greaney’s twelve piece band, Naomi Phoenix opened for him at the Irish Centre in Digbeth. Accompanying Phoenix on guitar was a young Dan Whitehouse.

Like Micky, Dan writes elegant songs that open up to you. But unlike Micky, Dan takes several different approaches to crafting his material.

I’m not interested in pure confession just for confession’s sake. It has to be filtered through skill and craft so it can be digested easily. 
How do the songs arrive? Micky says they just fall out when the time’s right… or he wakes up when he’s dreamed a song… a very pure and instinctual process… what about you?
Sometimes that’s happened. I’d echo that. I also very much feel that you have to get the guitar and the pen and the book out, that you have to get a lot of raw material out, in order to get to the little crystals, the little nuggets of gold that are in there. If you can’t write anything good, you have to write something mediocre. And then, later on you’ll write something good. It’s important to get stuff out. Little snippets and nuggets… almost every day. In the moment of creation, you might think something’s rubbish. Two weeks later, you might see it in an entirely different light.
Dan works and worries at his songs – he speaks fondly of a Songwriter’s workshop with Tom Robinson, and in turn he now conducts workshops in Birmingham; details of which are at the bottom of the post.
Tom Robinson introduced me to the Immersion Method. It’s wonderful. It’s an American idea, and it’s centred around a 20 song ‘game’. You set aside a 12 hour period. You then push yourself to compose twenty songs in one day, in complete isolation. It’s about going under, getting locked in, connecting with a sense of creativity where you are literally messing around – so that the ideas flow. It’s very difficult to find the time and space to do it, because there are so many distractions and responsibilities in our lives.
And that worked for you?
Certainly did. In that day I got to about 17 songs, and several of them are worthy of recording and release, including this song, "Come Back".
I asked this question of Micky too: what about presenting your very personal songs live for the very first time? 

Two things: One, other people have done it for me. I’ve been blessed to see great singer-songwriters revealing themselves. I’ve enjoyed that process of listening and watching so much. I want to return that. I love this art form. And also – I’ve always done this. My motivation for learning the guitar, since the age of 12, has been to express myself. In that sense, I’m comfortable with the process. If I’m playing a song for the first time, I’m nervous, because I know I’ll beat myself up if I don’t get it right. But I’m not nervous about revealing myself.
The next few gigs will see Dan showcase his current album – Dan Whitehouse – and some material from the next album. And as many others have done, including The Destroyers, as detailed in this blog, Dan is setting up a pledge campaign to fund his next album, with the working title of 'Landscape'. As for his collaborators, Dan is as thrilled as Micky…. 

There's a collective of Midlands musicians that work live and in the studio with me - John Large on Drums, Steve Clarke Bass, June Mori Piano, Tom Bounford Violin, Simon Smith on upright bass, and  Michael Clarke who produced his debut LP on Banjo/Synth/Guitar/Harmony vocals. Oh, and Joelle Barker on percussion and Chris Brown on Pedal Steel
You can stream the current Dan Whitehouse album for free from iTunes – but obviously he’d like you to buy it. And if you like what you hear and you write yourself, Dan also does Songwriting workshops himself, at Mac Birmingham (details below).

Dan Whitehouse website

You can stream or buy Dan's current debut solo album at iTunes, or buy it from his site. 
Songwriting workshops at Mac

No comments: