For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to hear you yet, who are New Street Adventure?
We’re a five-piece soul band based in East London, signed to Acid Jazz Records, released two albums with them in the last three years. We’re currently getting ready for a big U.K. tour with a band called The Milk. Until now we’ve been plying our trade around the Soul and Mod scene but it’s starting to break out a bit more now, whilst still retaining those followers
Is it full time for you now? Have you given up the decorator / handyman job?
No, I’m still doing that. We make nowhere near enough money for me not to work.
Earlier this year you said the band had been through 30 line-up changes. Is the line-up settled now?
No. Our keyboard player suddenly left quite recently, so for the moment we are down to a four piece, with a session keyboard player who is playing on the next tour.
Is having all those influences coming in and out a good thing?
Yes, definitely ‘cause with my guitar and songwriting, I’m self-taught but because we have such a high standard of musicians in the band I learn quite a lot from them. There’s definitely a good array of influences in the band, I’d say.
According to your website “nobody will ever achieve ‘happiness’ because there’s always something to moan about.” Is there much to moan about now?
Yes, definitely! That particular quote was about our song What’s So Good About Happiness? It was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek, looking at how people use social media and how you moan about the people that moan but you actually love reading it because that’s what makes it entertaining, in a weird way.
Generally your songs are socially aware; you’re not a ‘lovey dovey’ songwriter.
I can be but I prefer trying to be a bit challenging and witty. If I can…
Given the view you put across in your songs I’d say there’s probably a lot to concern or motivate you at the moment?
I do feel that people, especially with what has happened over recent months – the election campaign, and then what happened at Glastonbury – it feels like there’s a bit more of a political awakening, certainly in my generation, maybe in Music as a whole. It’s not going to happen overnight but, yes, there’s definitely a lot to irk people and get people worked up, and I think if they can relate to that in a song that’s quite a powerful thing, really.
You wear your musical influences on your sleeve – classic soul and funk, ‘70s singer / songwriters – what do you bring to the mix?
When people think of Soul music it’s mainly about the voice. I’ve never been able to sing like that, I’ve always bought my own take though it’s not for everybody. I’ve always identified with the voice first and foremost but the music really interests me too – the arrangements and the chord structures because all that Classic Soul has a classic songwriting structure. The phrasing of those great singers isn’t something I’ve got engrained in me but whenever I’m coming up with new stuff I always think “How would Bobby Womack sing it?” or “How would Marvin Gaye sing it?” Even though I don’t have THAT voice – and I never will – I still try to drop little things in that’ll keep people thinking.
Do you bring a bit of London and Birmingham to it as well?
The Birmingham connection is only that I was living there when I started the band; I’m not a Brummie. I think people from that area like the fact that ‘New Street’ is in the name. The New Street I know in London is opposite Liverpool Street Station and not as exciting.
I live in London now but I wouldn’t claim to be a Londoner. I grew up in a leafy part of East Sussex. I think because I was bought up with the values and the musical tastes that I have, it gives my music an authenticity even though it doesn’t really sound like anything else.
You’ve mentioned before about your father being a big Soul fan…
Yeah, he’s an avid record collector; he’s an obsessive, definitely.
On the subject of records, all the New Street Adventure releases to date have been available on vinyl.
It’s really important, I think. I love it and we definitely have the sort of fanbase that appreciates vinyl more than CDs, but then I think a lot of people are starting to anyway. I don’t think I own any CDs now; maybe a few battered ones somewhere but I’ve always been excited by vinyl. We’re releasing a four track EP in a month’s time, to coincide with the tour we’re doing and that’s only available on vinyl and digital.
Why do think a style of music made on another continent 50 years ago, in very different circumstances, still finds a passionate audience today.
It’s that feeling of being the underdog, I suppose. For me Punk was such a big thing as well but more because it was so fast paced and aggressive. It s impact has lasted but with Soul I think it’s that underdog feeling.
Despite these Soul influences your music, particularly your lyrics, sound very English.
I’ve always tried to avoid clichés, which is difficult. I’m trying to write a lot for other artists at the moment, and you have to change your own rules a little bit. But I still find it really hard to include clichéd lyrics in a song.
The Soul scene can be a bit elitist. Have you come up against musical snobbery?
Yes, a lot. My favourite ever review was when we first started; we where a three piece living in Birmingham, and we played in a bar at this little festival in Manchester, and someone said “It was the strange sensation of listening to George Michael fronting The Jam”. The rest of what he wrote was much more negative but that’s the only bit that I remember.
When we recorded our first EP it was sent to Snowboy and he said “Who is this guy singing, why haven’t they got a proper Soul singer?” because the music sounded so good.
There are a lot of people who don’t understand it. Last year, when The Guardian article came out there were loads of people writing horrible things like “How can he compare this band to Dexys?” blah, blah, blah “He’s just a posh Mockney singing on top of some average Soul music”, things like that. It doesn’t really bother me, I’ve been doing it long enough but I know what I’m doing, I know what works. The nice things are what you really try and remember.
I was in Brighton on the Bank Holiday, outside a pub when someone dragged me in and they said “Oh, they’re playing your song” and when I walked in about 50 people cheered, and they were applauding, and it’s things like that – which hasn’t really happened before – you think if you can make people feel like that, it’s such a powerful emotion. To connect with people like that, it’s pretty amazing.
It probably helped that they’d had a few beers as well.
You’ve never branded yourselves as a Mod band but your early audience was the Mod / Northern Soul crowd.
I like the clothes, I like the music but I think for someone of my generation to call themselves a Mod is a bit confused really. We’ve always got asked to play events that have got ‘Mod’ in the title but we’ve tried to stay away for that reason. People who connect with our music will find it without us having to nail our colours to any particular mast.
There are some bands that make a big thing of it and it doesn’t work now. There have been so many subcultures that everything has kind of blended into one; the lines between each different one are merged now, aren’t they? None of our original following has fallen away, even though our second album was a bit more progressive, away from that kind of Style Council sound.
You’ve played at John Simons shop in Marylebone; you’re playing at Bass & Co shoe shop tomorrow night so presumably style is important to you?
Definitely. I’m not always going to be sharp; I mean, look at me today. I probably look quite scruffy [he didn’t – Ed.]… it’s little things like that, the right type of shoes or the right type of jeans or shirt. I’d never go around suited up or anything like that but I like the Mod style, definitely.
Do you remember the first time your parents let you buy your own clothes?
Yes, and it was probably a mistake as well. I was about 14, something like that, and the big thing at my school was baggy jeans and surfer t-shirts… it didn’t last very long, I don’t think. I remember I had these jeans that my Mum washed with so much starch they were just really stiff, so I stopped wearing them eventually. I don’t know if she did it on purpose, I reckon she probably did.
What’s the ambition for the band?
I’d love to be able to do it full time but I also see my songwriting as something that is equally important and that’s what I want to work on – songwriting for other people. I’m writing a lot at the moment but I think I could do both simultaneously quite easily.
Does collaborating interest you?
Definitely, yeah, because I think you learn a lot from collaborating. Like I said, I’m not the greatest guitar player or musician. Working with somebody new, with fresh ideas would open me up to areas I’ve not been in before. I’ve now got two albums on my ‘cv’, so that’s two really good reasons that someone will want to work with me over someone else.
Is there a wish list of people you’d like to work with?
I don’t know really … one in particular, right, Joss Stone, I think when her first album came out, ‘The Soul Sessions’, it was all covers; it was brilliant, so raw. She’d been working with Betty Wright and Angie Stone, and I don’t think she’s done anything that good since. I’ve got some songs that I think would work really well for her. Other than that it’s people who are my current soul… not ‘heroes’ but favourites in the States; people like Lee Fields, Raphael Saadiq and Charles Bradley, people who have excellent production and bands but I think I could write them some better songs, to be fair. We’ll have to see what happens, I suppose, but I’m writing a lot at the moment.
And then you’re off on tour with The Milk?
Yes, I’m really looking forward to that ‘cause their drummer [Mitch Ayling] produced both our albums, we get on really well, so I think it will be good fun.
What was behind the decision to record the new acoustic EP? Do these songs come across from a different angle if you do them acoustically?
Most of them are written on acoustic guitar, so that’s usually the kind of blueprint; if it’s going to work on acoustic guitar it will work however. Acid Jazz has always been really keen on us doing them because they like how we perform in an acoustic environment.
We supported Leroy Hutson at the Union Chapel and we just did an acoustic set; it was really nervy because we walked in during his soundcheck and there was an eleven or twelve piece band and full string and horn arrangements and it sounded incredible, plus he’s also one of my favourite artists. And then we go up there with a couple of guitars and a cajon box, but I think it went down really well. We tried to be very humble, I mean I always am but extra humble, I guess, and it kind of won the audience over and we took a bit longer explaining the songs, and why we were there.
A good song is a good song regardless of arrangement. That’s kind of how I’ve grown up with it, really.
One And The Same Acoustic EP is released on Acid Jazz Records on 28th September 2017. Details at https://goo.gl/qS2sjR
New Street Adventure and The Milk are playing 9 UK dates together starting 28th September 2017. Details at https://www.new-street-adventure.com/live