Americana music begins and ends with Ryan Adams and Uncut magazine doesn’t it? Not anymore. Robert Vincent, the Bob Harris-championed Scouse songwriter with the Nashville-tinged chops, is here with a second album of contemporary country music that looks down dark entries… as well as down valleys. By Alan O’Hare.
When ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris calls you “the real deal”, you better be. Real, that is. We’ve all seen the look on the venerable broadcaster’s face when confronted with anything he considers flippant (New York Dolls on ‘… Whistle Test’ anyone?). Robert Vincent, the Scouser chosen by Harris as a recipient of The Americana Music Association UK’s ‘Emerging Artist’ award, has nothing to worry about, though, as he’s travelled a well-worn road.
The songwriter has paid his dues over the last few years, supporting anyone worth their salt visiting Liverpool and touring his widescreen laments with established artists. His own gigs have gone from strength to strength, too, and the gentle giant has seen his confidence grow at the same time as his audience: “It’s taken me the last five years or more of touring the country to feel confident enough to put a big headline show on,” he says of the upcoming second album launch gig at The Epstein Theatre. “I wouldn’t have attempted it a couple of years ago – but what’s special about it now is that people are coming in from around the UK. The three tours I’ve done with Paul Carrack have made a difference – playing similar venues to a thousand or more people a night helps you build a decent fan base – and it’s been great fun playing so many gigs. I like being out and about touring and playing to new rooms.”
That’s good to hear… as it’s what being a musician is really all about. Open mic culture and the continuing devaluation of music by the world at large often distort the fact that audiences still exist for top tunes if you get off your arse and go to work. “I’ve been playing this collection of songs for a while and most people know them now,” says Vincent. “The album has been gaining momentum and getting nice feedback, so off the back of that I’d like to be playing more shows like the Epstein around the country… I just like to see the growth and be busy.” He’s certainly been busy. We’ve already talked about the touring and big support slots, but Vincent is a contemporary artist who not only does it the old fashioned way – he’s also embraced the digital age and made it work for him. “The new album was funded by a successful Pledge campaign,” he reveals. “I started the pre-order to raise money for the album early in 2015 and we recorded a whole different record at first and then scrapped it! Then I brought in a bunch of songs that I felt had a theme and I’d written the title track (‘I’ll Make the Most of My Sins’), which felt like I had everything I needed.”
You’ve got what you were after for this record, then?
I never wanted my second album to just be a collection of songs. I wanted it to have a theme.
Tell us about it…
The songs didn’t change a huge amount from the way that they were originally written. When you play them to a band and you start working through them, they obviously take on different feels and grow. The way the band (Michael Gay, Etienne Girard, Jim Kimberley, Emily Jackson, Christian Madden) play is very instinctive and I like that – I don’t want parts pained over as it loses an immediacy that songs like mine need.
You’ve got great musicians on the album. Did you record anything live?
Two songs are completely live. ‘Time Won’t Wait’ I recorded in Nashville whilst mixing – that was a late edition. ‘Hand To Hold’ was brand new and we sat in the studio and played it… after a couple takes we had it. I love the process of hearing what players bring to the songs, that’s the point for me. I wouldn’t tell anyone what to do.
Nashville. Cool. You’ve been tagged with this ‘Americana’ vibe, but you don’t feel boxed in?
The great thing about working with the likes of The Americana Music Association UK is that it’s about not boxing you as something – more giving a broader church to more artists. There is a lot more room to be whatever you want. With country, it’s just country… with Americana, it’s influenced and tinged with traditional folk, blues and country – but never in the extreme. You find that every artist has a flavour of lots of different rootsy feels and whereas in the past people would scratch their head as they are not sure where you fit in, you can still fit in.
How did you get involved with The Americana Music Association UK?
The support first came from Bob Harris. He saw me play the Bluecoat at an event called ‘Bluebird to the Bluecoat’ a while back and then he gave me the ‘Emerging Talent Award’ early the following year.
A massive boon?
I’m hugely grateful to him and the association. Without their support, the last eighteen months would have been a lot less fun for me.
For those who’ve only heard the music online or on the radio, what can we expect from the big live launch?
It’s a great live band and worthy of the entry fee alone to see Jim, the drummer! Chris Hillman, who is a fine player of all things Americana and especially pedal steel (he recently won ‘Instrumentalist of the Year’ at the AMA UK Awards), will be playing too and it’s gonna’ sound huge! People will certainly get their money’s worth…
You’ve toured with lots of big names. Tell us about life on the road…
I can’t divulge that type of information! Hearing Paul Carrack singing one of your songs in the dressing room after coming off stage will stay with you for a while, though… he sounded better than me singing it, anyway!
Who’s out there who you’d love to play with?
Roger Waters or David Gilmour… both would be nice! Though Neil Finn is the best songwriter of the last thirty years in my opinion.
Who else have you been listening to?
Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell, Andrew Combs… and, of course, Pink Floyd and The Beatles!
What’s next, then?
I have lots of new songs and I’m going to record again very soon. But this album is getting a US release in April, so that will take me over there. More of that would be nice… I’m easily pleased!
Robert Vincent Album Launch
The Epstein Theatre, Hanover Street, Liverpool
Thursday March 2nd 2017, 7pm
Pic courtesy At The Helm Records