Animal is available at:
23rd June, 2017
THIS will be an interesting one as…
I get to look at a young man who differs from other artists I have reviewed. Before I come to look at Wayne Woodward; I want to spend some time looking at young artists powering their way into music – and how tough it is in this climate – why we need musicians and artists to speak out and address the current malaise; the genres of Swing and Alternative; voices that stand out from the crowd and having that ‘star’ quality – a little on critical expectation and making your way to the mainstream. I will start by talking about Woodward in the context of the competition in music. It is a really hard time for artists to catch a break – this is not helped by venues closing and social media taking over. I feel social media is that bittersweet invention that gets music to people instantly but can make one anonymous. It is a replacement for real relationships and, as such, can create a lot of issues. For artists, they have to build that rapport and connection with their fans but promote their songs at the same time. It is a really hard industry and one many are struggling to cope in. What I find is social media is brilliant getting music out to the masses without much struggle. We are witnessing the most advanced stage of human life – this benefits music when we see the technology on offer. The downside of this option and access is so many are taking the option. Every artist needs social media and the Internet and it is difficult standing out from everyone else. Naturally, you need to remain active and tour as much as possible. The wave of new artists coming through means it is harder to get focus and make a successful career. How, then, do some artists make it big? Well, people like Wayne Woodward graft hard and have a personality that connects with audiences and gets into the heart. He is a personal and warm talent – more on that later – who creates incredible music. What impresses me about Woodward is his work ethic and determination.
There are a few artists I have discovered who do not expend necessary energy and dedication which means they have a hard time enduring. One cannot stress simply how tough and competitive it is in music. Because of that, the modern artist needs to strike the business on several fronts: the music; personality; social media; commitment and originality. The first two points I shall cover more in a bit. Woodward utilises social media and ensures his fans are updated and satisfied. There are great photos and lots of updates; a lot of grind and a real allegiance to music. To Woodward, few things mean more and you can feel that passion in everything he does. I am, perhaps, a little tough on some artists because it is very challenging being a musician these days. I feel talent and time are as important as social media, luck and work rate – when it comes to succeeding and remaining. Wayne Woodward is someone who immerses himself in music and spends his days getting it out to the people. He is whipping up a storm right now and this is going to continue without doubt. It is the confidence and commitment Woodward gives to his music that impresses me. He has that charming and loveable personality that makes him an instant winner for the listener. It is a really tough thing, music, but Woodward has a level head and clear vision. It is likely Woodward will grow stronger and take more chances in music. Right now, the material he is producing is stunning and original – you can detect a fearless soul and someone completely in control of their music. With Jay Picasso producing Animal – and a great set of musicians behind him – one gets impressions of a smoky bar and some vintage and cinematic. I will come onto the music very soon but, before I do, a proper introduction to the young man:
“Power-housing his way through the London entertainment scene, the 22 year singer has been melting
the hearts of audiences across Europe. Performing a wide range of classic Swing music, Wayne’s unique tone and vocal range are instantly recognisable and memorable. The dynamic Lad is full of energy, humble and connects with everyone he meets. His Star character and personality are just as much apart of him as the music. Singing his way through 2017, Wayne’s vocals continue to attract large audiences of all ages.
“Despite BGT being an absolutely amazing experience I didn’t get a great deal of help after the show and am now back on my own still fighting for the dream.
What the show did give me was a lot of very supportive people who now want more, so I have been singing every weekend in city halls, philharmonics, weddings and even bars and restaurants trying to get the budget together to give the people something they want to hear”
– Wayne Woodward
Wayne has since settled down moved out his parents home and into his own flat and is currently expecting a baby boy that he will name Frankie J. Woodward. Which according to Wayne “Gives me
all the more fight to reach my dream.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Martin Russell
Ever since this country’s political situation has unravelled the way it has; I have been searching for an artist who has that urgency and potency. What I mean is the fact it is a tense and unsettled period for the United Kingdom and, I feel, music should reflect the concern and imbalance we have right now. Whilst Woodward might not be an Urban artist – and project himself as fiercely as some – a song like Animal is a defiant and stark song that lodges itself in the head and makes its impact. Hearing Woodward’s voice and what he sings about on the song – getting kicked down like an animal – there is a sense of personal struggle that could be applied to the country as a whole. As a Labour supporter and someone opposed to Brexit – not a fan of the current government and how things are behind handled – it does not seem like the country I grew up in. There are a lot of angry and hostile voices making themselves known and a huge sense of uncertainty. Following the Grenfell disaster; I feel there needs to be a surge of artists coming through, addressing what is happening right now. I know Dizzee Rascal has a new album coming out this year but it is has been a little quiet in terms of those Urban acts addressing the state of the nation. Maybe that will change but I’d like to think songs are being laid down right now – big anthems that show their disgust and galvanise the nation. It is times like this where we need to herald acts who speak about what is happening around them. So many still get hung up on themselves and their own relationships. Taking time to properly talk about what is happening in this country (and the wider world) is what we all need. I mentioned Dizzee and, my greatest wish, is to find someone who can produce a modern-day Boy in da Corner. That album was packed with genius, stunning lyrics and flow – sick raps, spat beats and true command. There is a definite calling and desire so we need artists to respond. Woodward is someone, in his own way, representing a general mood and sentiment around the nation. That feeling of being forced down by life and having to get back up seems very apt at the moment. Whether directing documenting the strife and anger that is being felt in Britain; a general sense of the feelings circulating the country and the confusion felt by many – we need to embody this through music.
Music is one of the most powerful forces there is and has the potential to make real changes. That needs harnessing right now. I feel the nation is in the most unstable state it has been for a long time and, not wanting to add weight to the negativity out there, music has that power to help the people and verbalise the myriad emotions and concerns being felt. I have been toying with my own album (Antifreeze in Summer) and the themes that should be explored: political unrest and youth dissatisfaction; issues concerning climate and national security; the need to come together and make the world better. Applying this to Wayne Woodward and he himself has crafted a song that speaks for so many people. It is a wonderful track that provokes vivid images. In a way, although it has personal roots, I feel it looks at the human condition and the way we are all subject to bad days and challenging times. Arriving in the epicentre of a national outcry – the fire from Grenfell is out but the smoke will linger for years to come – Woodward’s latest track feels very appropriate and meaningful. A lot of artists are taking little time to cast their creative net wide enough and look past their personal lives. Yes, there is a huge sense of self in Animal but the song gets me thinking about the world around and what some people have had to face. There is that feeling things are heading in a bad direction and we are not sure what will happen. Woodward is someone who recognises this but offers something hopeful and optimistic. There will be light at the end of the tunnel but it might take a while to get there. Against all the strife and chaos; we all need that hope to cling onto.
It has been a long while since I’ve looked at genres like Swing so it is good to hear an artist like Wayne Woodward. Coming from Jay Picasso’s stable; one might assume he would be a rapper or Hip-Hop artist but it shows what diversity is coming from that studio space. We get impressions of Swing and thing it will be Frank Sinatra and quite old-fashioned. There is a sense of blue-eyed soulfulness in Woodward but he is a modern equivalent. All the instruments one hears on Animal were recorded live and help achieve that natural sound. It is orchestral and grand; there is intimacy and shadows sitting alongside light and romance. We get all these things from Woodward’s voice and the superb musicians accompanying him. Picasso wanted to simulate the sound of a smoky bar: whilst there, he wanted Woodward to break his heart. No romantic endeavour but surrendering to a singer with immense chops and the ability to silence a crowd. I love the imagery and nature of Woodward’s work. There is that feeling of a smoky, Jazz/Swing-filled bar somewhere in the city – late at night and, maybe, down an alleyway. Woodward’s music should be in black-and-white because it has that film noir vibe. I am not a huge follower of Swing – mainly because there are not a lot of current options. One has to go back in time to hear Swing music and how it all began. Maybe it is not deemed fashionable in the modern climate because people assume it will sound like Sinatra or Dean Martin. Great artists but how relevant are they in the modern age? Woodward is someone who nods to the legends but modernises the genre. There is Blues and Soul (in Animal) and sensations of the 1970s. We get a blast of several decades and those kingpins. It is rare to hear such sounds in the market but should be no real surprise, I guess. Woodward is not one for nostalgia and updates 1970s Soul and older Swing with ease.
Animal has those live instruments playing: a pure performance that is not cluttered with polish and effects. It is a luscious and sweeping track that has darker elements but plenty of gorgeous croon and startling moments. I am keen to write about Wayne Woodward because many might know him from Britain’s Got Talent. That is a ‘tag’ he has had to throw off for a while. It was a great opportunity for him but, one suspects, a small step in a much larger career. It was a chance to showcase his voice to the nation but he does not want to be identified as a ‘talent show contestant’. It is the sort of thing one might see on a pantomime poster or someone playing on Blackpool pier. For Woodward, it was an exciting opportunity but did not open as many doors as anticipated. It is curious seeing people who go on talent shows and what they hope to achieve. Woodward’s experience might be different but, for many, it is that need to gain fame and stardom quickly. As much as anything, it can be fun and, assuming you want little else from it, not a bad way to spend your time. I think the problem is a lot of people assume it will fast-track them to giddy heights and they will be set for life. We have all seen shows like X Factor and how ‘well’ artists there do. To be honest, there has never been a truly successful winner/contestant on any talent show of this modern ilk. You can debate whether singers like Leona Lewis and Will Young are reputable and big but they have not exactly set the world alight. Their album sales might be impressive but do sales equate to genuine quality and originality? I would say not and that is emphasised by the fact none of these winners/contestants are talked about in hushed and excited tones. They fill a need and fit into a market that is commercial and soulless. That is unfair to say that of all artists (within that bubble) but it is true of most. I do not think anyone goes on a talent show because they think they are going to change the world. There is that fame motive and need for quick success – most of the people who appear either do not write songs or have little talent beyond. That is why I am glad Woodward is trying to depart from that tag.
Were he your ‘average’ talent show contestant; he would aim for that record deal and , invariably, surround himself with producers, writers and other assorted minors. The rank-and-file crews that accompany your modern Pop star is extraordinary. Instead, he has accepted it was a small (memorable if not overly-successful) step along the way and part of the C.V. He wants to shake that association off to an extent – probably doesn’t help I have been banging on about it for a long time! – and forge a career on his own terms. That is an impressive step and one I do not see from many talent show participants. If they were to go down their own road – and not hang on to a false ideal of stardom and fame – they would be a lot happier. The truth is, a lot of these artists do not have the talent and potential to survive by their own methods. Woodward, by contrast, battles against the wave of overly-produced artists and creates music that bursts with passion and evocativeness. It is raw and essential; it grabs you by the neck and drags you in. I am compelled by Woodward’s voice which seems like nothing else. There are embers of modern acts like Rag ‘n’ Bone Man but Woodward is a smoother, more refined and eclectic singer. He has the smoothness of a Swing crooner but the beauty and powerful of the best Soul performers. He has forged that voice himself and not developed it around a marketing need or desire – progressed the way he wanted to and developed into an impressive and unique artist. It is an unpredictable thing, this music industry so you have to be ready for rejection and some unexpected lows. Woodward, after that Britain’s Got Talent shot, had doors closed in his face and did not get the opportunities he deserved. Now he is shaking off that experience to an extent; it is clear Woodward has a lot more to say and will achieve everything he set out to. It is an exciting time for an artist who has created a fantastic track in Animal. If his future songs are anything like this, it will not be long until he reaches the big leagues.
The opening seconds of Animal build a sense of purpose and thread work. There is the plinking and soft-stepping style of strings and pianos with an underlying with some funky guitar snatches. It is a busy, emotive and interesting build-up that blends perfectly with the video – the hero sat smoking; contemplating life and mulling things over. It is important to establish a sense of purpose and direction with an introduction and that is what one gets here. Jay Picasso’s proprietary blends and patented production guidance – weave together with some exceptional songwriting – gets the song off to a flyer and strikes in the heart. The first notes of Woodward’s deliver are stark and affecting. That voice, if not experienced before, is extraordinary and powerful. It is low and gravelled but has a sense of comfort and richness to it. See, as it is said, the hero has been kicked down like an animal. He is feeling the sting of life and trying to make sense of the way things are unfolding. “Thorn in my side” he laments; “Shot down” like the proverbial scapegoat. The non-human form has been reduced to mere bones: his soul has been scarred and his pride wounded. There is nobody there to save Woodward and pull him from the trap. Elongating the word ‘animal’ to such an extent gives it that pained and wracked tone – the word is stretched and dragged through the dirt. It gives the song its first truly harrowing and revealing moment and uncovers its wounds without shame. The hero is not going to be defeated but, that said, is having a torrid time right now. Taken from the album, N.U.M.B.; Animal is a perfect representation of a young soul with an older man’s woes. As wordless vocals coo and swoon – creating a flow and audible heartbeat – the video sees Woodward drag through a cigarette and approached by a heroine – a rather statuesque and alluring femme fatale, perhaps?!
In the early phases, you get an idea of what is being represented and what the hero has had to face. It is not clear whether there has been romantic misadventure or a lack of good fortune. Maybe this is a look back at that talent show past and having doors slammed in the face. It has been a hard few years for Woodward and he has not got as many bites of the cherry as he would have hoped. Now, as he is launching N.U.M.B. to the world; things are going to change – but he can’t ignore what has led him to this situation. The composition remains light but lets the voice take charge. The heroine has been tied down and shackled it seems. Not only by life but it seems like an individual – maybe a sweetheart or former love. There is a lot of tension coming in as horns blast and things get heavier. Again, certain words are elongated and there is a real emotional slam being felt. Woodward is trust like an animal and is being deceived. Unable to run free and get some release; he is at the mercy of the heroine. As, in the video, the heroine writhes and teases our man – who nurses a cigarette and has his head in hands – you get a real sense of struggle and defeat. The composition becomes more present and urgent as the production’s richness and complexities make themselves known. You hear more emotions and force coming to the surface. The horns strengthen whilst the strings and electronic elements fuse effortlessly. It is the sound of a Soul/Swing classic with modern aesthetics and production values. Woodward’s voice remains that constant weapon. Even though the hero is battling for survival; his voice is that strong and captivating beast that swims and endeavours but has a smoky and ravaged core. The halo has been stripped – he is trying to get a signal “out-of-range” – and is bleeding.
Whilst contemporary Soul singers like Rag ‘n’ Bone Man have been criticised for a certain lack of invention and originality; here, there is a lot more depth, rage and nuance. Woodward has a voice as potent and impressive but the songwriting and production is much more impressive. Animal is addictive and catchy. The strings still trip and creep whilst the voice flows and swoons to create something quite wonderful. I love the wordplay and lyrics from Woodward. Metaphors and stunning images come to mind and you cannot help but create your own storyline. The video for Animal is quite basic – set in a bar with Woodward and the heroine in this tease and struggle – but one will have their own impressions. I see something more ambitious and epic. The hero fights in the rain and is being (literally) kicked down and suffocated. Although there are these weighty lyrics and harrowing revelations; there is that determination to fight back and find hope. Woodward is not someone who lets life take over him and allow it to consume his every moment. Yes, there are bad times and have been issues but he is defiant and single-minded. Wanting to succeed and prosper, much like an animal, he bites back and has that rugged exterior. There are few songs that will leave such an immediate impression and take hold upon first listen. It is a brilliant track you cannot help come to time again and unearth new truths and possibilities. Woodward is the leader and centre that gives the song immense power and conviction. The composition starts quite subtle but grows and creates its own atmosphere. Together – and some terrific production values – we have this epic and grand song that could be the theme to a thriller or action film – I think one YouTube commentator has already mooted the possibility. It is a wonderful cut from the album that, along with title track N.U.M.B., shows what a talent Woodward is.
I am keen to return to my original points but, before then, a little about Wayne Woodward. You only need run his name through a search engine and you will get a load of articles about his runner-up success at Britain’s Got Talent (2016). A lot of them ask if we remember him and, more importantly, the fact he is stepping out as a solo artist. I know Woodward is expecting a boy he will call Frankie J. Woodward – after his favourite crooner. He has set himself up in his own flat and is making some big decisions. It is all part of growing up but, being so young, it might seem a little daunting. Having to balance a new home with impending parental duties is enough for anyone – without throwing in music and all those responsibilities. It is an exciting time for him and one that will bring new relevance and importance. I am not sure how his fatherly role with impact his music but one suspects future new songs will reflect that new dynamic will have a part to play. It is good Woodward has found some independence and new responsibility because it will give him a lot more freedom. In terms of performance; he plays at weddings and gigs every weekend and spends as much time as he can gigging. That shows the determination and work ethic he has. There are some great days ahead and, now Animal is out, it is only six days until his album is out. A busy and packed time for a hugely promising young artist. This sense of Woodward being who he truly is has burned hard. He has spent so long playing gigs and saving his money up – so he can perform and record the music he wants to. With Jay Picasso on production duties; he is in safe hands and has a stunning song as a result. Written with Picasso and Daniel Spencer; Animal is a gorgeous song that will remain in the mind for a long while.
PHOTO CREDIT: Martin Russell
I am not sure what his touring plans are but one hopes there are some dates around the country. With an album approaching fast; I suspect there will be some promotional dates but it seems Woodward has the opportunity to transcend from the concert halls and weddings to playing at some of the country’s best venues. It is always hard trying to juggle a ‘normal’ life and the needs of the music industry. Although Woodward’s life is about to get a lot busier – in both areas – it is going to be exciting. He has stepped out on his own and marking himself as one of the most intriguing male solo artists in the country. When his album arrives; many will take it to heart and find much to adore. Animal is the sound of a young man casting off the labels of ‘talent show contestant’ and that sort of life. Not that appearing on those shows is anything to feel strangely about: one can often be tied to them and unable to shake it off. Woodward entered Britain’s Got Talent and was the runner-up that year. It was hoped there would be able to naturally transition into a music career but the opportunities were not as ready as anticipated. That left to a slightly jaded artist who had to think how he approached the industry. I am glad Woodward did not get fame off the back of that success – he would have been led down a different path. With a record label backing him; it might have been hard to sing and write how he wanted. In a way, he would have had some independence removed and been made to fit into a mould. Luckily, fortune and talent have seen him take another crack at music. There is criticism from a lot of people when it comes to talent shows and why people go on them – and whether it is a cheap fast-track to the top. I feel the shows are becoming less valid and are not giving us any lasting talent. There have a certain pointlessness which makes me wonder why we watch them – if it is for entertainment or we are (naively) hoping the next big thing will emerge?!
Before bringing this all down, a look back at Swing and voices that separate themselves from everything else. Wayne Woodward’s voice is the result of a young man not following trends and fashions: a singular human who wants to sing and perform how HE wants. There is no direction or pressure; people are not steering him to sound like anyone else. Hearing Animal, one hears some contemporary notes and embers of existing artists. When you strip away Woodward’s musical flesh, one finds the beating heart of a true and determined artist. The fact he pounds the live circuit so hard shows you how much it all means to him. The experience he has gained not only gives him valuable lessons and knowledge from the road but hones that voice. He is able to experiment in low-stress environments and try different things. You can hear all the different shades, layers and scenarios in Woodward’s voice. It is an exciting thing and one driven by passion and instinct. Playing in genres like Swing and Soul can be quite risky, I guess. The mainstream welcomes all kind of acts but there is a general leering towards urgency and something quite instant – sounds and songs that have directness and lodge themselves in the brain. Swing builds itself up a different way and is more reliant on a sense of relaxation and smoothness. Whether this ethos will be assimilated into the mainstream before long is yet to be seen but there are not many artists who play in this area. Woodward is capable of stepping into Hip-Hop, Pop and Electronica but, at the moment, is taking influence from legends like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He is that blue-eyed Soul crooner who mixes the legendary tones and sentiments with modern production and personal revelation. I would like to see Swing and Soul come more into focus and find more participants. A song like Animal shows what is possible and how nimble the genres are. Of course, there are not many artists who have the same voice and talent as Woodward. I guess music is always changeable and tastes are quite subjective. There is no doubting Woodward’s credentials and following.
He has a mass of bodies behind him and proving himself to be an awesome proposition. That star quality and everyman personality should not be overlooked. There are few artists who manage to produce original and striking music and balance that with a sense of approachability and accessibility. Woodward connects with the fans and someone who does not want to push them away. That will stand him in good stead when he makes it to the mainstream. There are a lot of artists who keep to themselves and do everything by the book – no sense of reaching out or dropping a certain façade. Those who take the time to be themselves and show some love will get that back. Wayne Woodward has a lot more in him and plenty of possibilities ahead. Animal is a song that proves his credentials and paints a very important message. Given the way the country has transformed the last few months – Grenfell, the election results and continuing tensions with terrorist-related attacks – we, as a people, are more on-edge and fraught that ever. There is a sense of being kicked down and having to surrender. The same way Woodward applies Animal to a personal sense of defeat and obstacle – having to prove his worth and fight against forces – we can extrapolate a lot from it – and apply it to the world we live in right now. Away from the crap and constant disappointment, there is that unerring determination and unity that means the people will rise and find light. We are not cowed and scared by threats and attacks; we are not people who let the government get away with shoddiness. Banding together and finding a common cause is the way we cope and make sense of things. Wayne Woodward, as a person, has faced disappointment and setbacks but does not let them get to him. He is resolute and will succeed. That sense of fortitude and triumphant steeliness burns hard in Animal. The sheer effectiveness and passion of that voice provide kick, silkiness and a range of different emotions. It is an insight into an album that is going to win new fans and highlights the fact Wayne Woodward is…
A force to be reckoned with.
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