ONE of the most impressive and prepared artists I have ever featured is…
Albert Man. The London-based songwriter has created impressive work in Cheap Suit and Nothing of Nothing Much. The latter, his E.P., is one of my favourite works of the past couple of years and he is an artist that takes care to ensure the listener/journalist is informed/updated and intrigued. In terms of live performances, Man has performed at a series of great venues and has amazed audiences around the world. St. Pancras Old Church is a venue that has housed a lot of wonderful artists: only natural Albert Man should be given their special stage for the night. Live at St. Pancras Old Church is released on 19th May and brings together the songs from Cheap Suit and Nothing of Nothing Much. Joined by some fantastic musicians and recorded by Alex Carson – mixed by Rhys Downing; Ed Woods mastered it – I ask Man about the night and what the audience was like. He talks about the musicians that helped make the gig special and new song, Groundhog Day. I ask about his favourite live album and his future gigs; whether there is a new album afoot and a couple of new artists he is captivated by.
Live at St. Pancras Old Church is your new album. What was the idea behind releasing a live album?
It was never my intention to release a live album from the St. Pancras Old Church show I did for my E.P. launch. I had the show recorded and, when I listened back, I thought it sounded great and would offer something different from my previously-released studio work.
It is released on 19th May. What can we expect to hear on the album?
It’s a collection of songs from last year’s studio album, Cheap Suit, and the more recent E.P., Nothing of Nothing Much. The arrangements are slightly different and the album will also feature a previously unreleased track, Groundhog Day – which is being offered as an instant gratification download with any iTunes pre-order too at www.albertman.com/preorder
The location is quite special and one of the most intimate, yet grand, in London. Was it quite daunting playing there? What was the vibe like?
I didn’t find it daunting: it was just a really fun night.
We’d managed to sell the place out too; so it was amazing to perform to a full house.
It’s also the kind of venue where people respect the musicians – so everyone was very attentive throughout, which is always great.
In a way, the performances seem to be your most confident and entrancing. Does it rank as one of the most special live performances you have given?
Yes, I’d say so. I look back at some older videos I’ve done in the past and I think, from a live performance point-of-view, things have definitely improved. The band were well-rehearsed too and the ambience and acoustics of the church were really great – so this all helped with the performance. I’ve also reached a point where I’ve written so many songs that I could choose my favourites to perform on the night and go into this album.
I believe you brought the material together from Cheap Suit and Nothing of Nothing Much. Was it quite hard deciding which tracks to include? How intense and experimental were the rehearsal sessions?
(I have my favourites as mentioned in the previous question). It’s always a bit of a challenge to choose the songs and order for a night. Playing a solo gig (versus a full-band gig) would usually mean a different set list – as some songs just don’t work as well solo.
The band did add their own personality to the tracks too, so they do sound a bit different from the original studio recordings – which I think makes it more interesting.
Alex Carson recorded the album and it was mixed by Rhys Downing – Ed Woods mastering. They have, between them, worked with Mark Ronson, Manic Street Preachers and The Who. What was it like having them on board and what qualities did they bring to the album?
I’ve worked with Rhys and Ed many times now so I always know I’m in safe hands with them. Alex was the live engineer on the night and did a great job recording the live show. They’re all really nice guys, and most importantly, they care about what they’re doing – so this reflects in the work they do.
On the night, you played alongside Ally McDougal, Jim McGrother; Matt Findlay and Louize Carroll. Are they permanent band members or was this the first time you played with them?
I’ve played with them all before. The band do change depending upon who’s available for certain gigs – as they are all busy with other projects too. Louize is a friend from Dublin who flew over especially for the gig. I’ve worked with her before in Dublin: recording another live version of You Had Me At Hello which was the starting point of my E.P. Nothing Of Nothing Much and appeared as a bonus track. You can watch the video here:
Groundhog Day, ironically, got its first appearance on an official release. What was the reason for including this song and what was the reaction like to it?
It was just about timing. The song was written after I’d started working on Nothing of Nothing Much so didn’t make the E.P. It’s still a relatively new song. It is the only new song that I’ve worked an arrangement through with the band. I think the song is different from songs I’ve written previously and is an example of where the next collection of songs I write and release is headed. It will be released on a future E.P. or album as a proper studio recording too.
In terms of live albums, which would rank as your favourite? Any of them give you the impetus to head to St. Pancras Old Church?
My favourite live album, without doubt, is At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash: quite the opposite location to that of St. Pancras Old Church so not sure that influenced my choice of venue. Not sure a prison gig is on the cards any time soon!
What is your lasting memory from recording the album? Is it the people or the atmosphere of the night? What defined the gig for you?
I loved that it was on a dark cold night rather than in the middle of summer: it just helped create the right atmosphere.
Also, the fact that the church was full and everyone was so into the show really helped create a great performance; not just from me but from the special guest we had on the night too.
One thing that strikes me (among others) is how professional and information your website/press kit is. Do you think it is important to give fans and journalists good and proper information and is it something more artists should do?
I don’t write reviews etc. (for blogs) but if I did I think it would make a difference if I got all the information I needed in an easily-accessible format. It’s so nice that you guys write articles and help promote artists and bands – especially on the unsigned music scene, so I just want to make your lives easier. I really don’t know what other artists and bands do, but I think, if you expect others to take the time to write an article about you, then you need to take the time yourself to prepare all the assets they’d need – and make their life as easy as possible.
Now the album has been recorded and due for release, what does the rest of the year hold in terms of new material?
I already have a collection of new songs which I’m performing a lot in my solo gigs – and which haven’t yet been recorded. Not exactly sure of timings yet but I would imagine heading into the studio to record these at some point this year – with a new release either at the end of this year or early next year.
You have a series of gigs coming up. Which dates are you most looking forward to and how have the recent dates gone?
I have eight festival gigs this year so am looking forward to all of them; especially The Great Escape and Liverpool Sound City – as have wanted to play at those for a while.
Other festival gigs I’m looking forward to are City Sound Project, Camden Rocks; Alive & V-Dubbin; Create Ashford, LakeFest and Meraki Festival. There’s a bunch of other gigs too in-between and there will be more as the year progresses. You can keep up to date with my gigs at www.albertman.com/gigs
Are there any new/upcoming artists you advise we keep an eye out for this year at all?
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that)
Seeing as we were talking about live albums: how about the opening track, Folsom Prison Blues from the Johnny Cash live album, At Folsom Prison.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Arnab Ghosal Street Photography