THE fantastic singer-songwriter Robert Lane…
hails from Birmingham and has impressed critics and fans with his passionate and compelling E.P., Ends and Starts. Its lead track, My Love’s In Deep, has been featured on radio stations and received huge recommendation in the press and social media. Last year, Lane toured the U.K. as a support act for Nashville In the Round – a songwriting circle featuring Jenn Bostic, Sarah Darling and Kyshonna Armstrong. Lane discusses linking with Armstrong for their new project, The United Tour. I ask him how that concept came about and plans for the rest of 2017; if he intends on playing the U.S. and what the music scene is like in Birmingham. Keen to know if there was new music planned; Lane talks about his future music plans and the artists that have compelled him.
Hi, Robert. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, Sam. I’m doing very well, thanks. As it happens, part of this week has been spent in the studio recording the first song for a new album. It’s been a lot of fun!
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Hello! I’m a singer-songwriter who lives in Birmingham, U.K. Last year, I put out a record called Ends and Starts – and I’m gigging all over the place.
I want to start by talking about your past work. Ends and Starts, your E.P., was released a year ago. What was the inspiration behind the E.P. and songs like My Love’s In Deep?
Various inspirations. I partly wanted to reflect the ‘Folk’ circuit that I have been working on recently – which is why some of the tracks are solo voice and acoustic live takes. My Love’s In Deep was written purposefully to be a good, rocking, radio song.
That track as featured on various radio stations and (the E.P.) got a lot of praise. Were you surprised by the reaction it got? How would you say you’ve developed as a musician since its release?
The reaction was very gratifying and the songs from the record are a lot of fun to play live.
Each time I write or record, I’m pretty keen to explore something a little bit different; I’m excited to find out where I’ll go next.
You have performed on the same stage as Mark Knopfler, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayer. What are those experiences like and what has been the most treasured memory so far?
I played before concerts by those artists at what was the NEC; then the LG Arena, and now, Genting Arena. It may well have changed name again by the time anyone reads this…
Technically, I didn’t play on the same stage but in the ‘holding area’ – where everyone hangs out beforehand. So, the same audience, but in collections of several-hundred-people – rather than thousands at once!
The best of those for me was playing at Eric Clapton’s gig because he is probably my favourite guitarist and one of my big idols.
Being based in Birmingham, is it hard to get attention from the mainstream press? What are the venues and performances spaces like around the city?
Birmingham is spoilt with really good venues of all sizes – from pubs up to two massive arenas. It also has several excellent theatres and museums (I launched Ends and Starts at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which was a lot of fun.) However, this in itself is a bit of problem because on any given night there’s a hell of a lot of choices available with regards to entertainment. People will be thinking: “shall we go to this comedy show, go see this famous band at the arena; watch some new theatre at the MAC or stay in and stream any film that has ever been made?” That’s quite a bit of competition. I used to gig all the time in Birmingham but now aim to do shows less often – but make each one a big event.
The United Tour is something that interests me. Can you discuss the inspiration behind it? You’ll be joining Kyshona Armstrong on stage. How did you two meet and what it is about her that compelled you to create the tour?
Last September, I went on tour as the opening act for Nashville in the Round: a songwriters’ circle featuring Jenn Bostic, Sarah Darling and Kyshona Armstrong. These three ladies are exceptional, and when I heard that Kyshona was keen to come back to the U.K. this year, I tentatively asked if she would be interested in going out on a joint-headline tour with me. I was thrilled when she said “hell yeah!” Jenn and Sarah are also back in the U.K. in May – just before The United Tour kicks off on the 6th June.
The inspiration for the tour (is the idea) of being United by music in what are extremely divisive times. Whether it’s my age and being more aware, I’m not sure, but something that I used to take for granted seems to have more or less completely disappeared. That is the idea of being able to debate an important issue in a friendly and respectful way.
Perhaps the problems are just so contentious that dignity and respect for an opposing viewpoint don’t hold the same weight they used to. Perhaps social media and the famous ‘echo chamber’ effect are to blame. Perhaps this is how it always was and I never noticed before.
Another effect of recent world events is that subtleties seem to have been erased and everyone is expected to choose one of two directly opposing viewpoints on every issue. As someone who usually exists in the ‘middle’; I find myself mostly disagreeing with pretty much everybody about pretty much everything.
Nasty people (of varied political persuasions) speaking nasty words seem to be winning the day at the moment. I think it’s worth putting that aside and looking for what unites rather than divides.
Plus, I’m from the United Kingdom and Kyshona is from the United States of America: we are uniting and we hope the audiences will join us. I suggested calling it the ‘Special Relationship Tour’ but, being American, Kyshona naturally had no idea what the reference was (as Helmut Schmidt once said (regards) Churchill’s “special relationship” between Britain and America – it was so special that only one side knew it existed).
She comes from South Carolina but has performed across Nashville. Have you ever got out to the U.S. to see her play and is that somewhere you’d like to play one day?
Not yet, but the offer is there!
What sort of thing can we expect from The United Tour? Is it going to consist duets or mainly solo performances? How can we get tickets for that?
It will be solo sets from each of us, with us, hopefully joining forces for a few songs too.
Any plans for the rest of 2017? Any new tour dates or songs, perhaps?
In April, I’m touring in Germany, then, in June, I’m in Holland for some gigs.
There’s a festival in Withernsea and a house concert in Edinburgh in August; I’ll be back in the studio working on songs for the new album as and when I can.
It is hard to compare you directly with another artist but I am interested to know the singers/artists that have inspired you?
The Who, Led Zeppelin; Eric Clapton, The Beatles; The Staves; Carole King; David Bowie, Ray Davies; Elvis, Johnny Cash; The Band, Rufus Wainwright; The Rolling Stones, Nick Drake; Ron Sexsmith, John Butler…
If you had to select the three albums that have meant the most to you; which would they be and why?
This is very difficult and that’s probably why you ask! Erm, how about…
Rufus Wainwright – Want
The Beatles – Revolver
Kate Walsh – Tim’s House.
PHOTO CREDIT: Andy at Photocillin Photography
Who are the new artists you recommend we investigate?
If you haven’t heard The Stray Birds, I strongly recommend you listen to their latest album; the Tom Walker Trio in Birmingham are great, and, of course, you must seek out Kyshona Armstrong right now – then come and see us both on tour in June!
Have you any advice for songwriters coming through at the moment?
It’s hard: no money, industry is dead, blah blah. This is all true but remind anyone – who says this to you – of three facts:
1) It was always hard…
2) For the majority of musicians, there was never any money, anyway…
3) Something being difficult is not a reason not to do it.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
May I have Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) by The Rolling Stones, please?
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