In my opinion he has one of the finest male voices in the area, fusing as much Eddie Vedder as he does Nat King Cole. This coming week sees him play two rare Barnsley Central gigs with two of his current musical acts, the alt-rock band 10Flaws Down and also paired with Australian alt-folk singer, Summer Greenwood.
Still relatively unknown to many music lovers in Barnsley, I caught up with ‘Lewy’ to find out why and to discover a little about him and his music.
Tell me about some of the groups you’ve played in prior to those you’re in now and a little about some of the solo music you’ve made?
I’ve played in many bands over the years, and I enjoy making music with others. I’ve always been interested in the song writing side of things or creation of the music more than performing really.
I’d played with a few bands, when at school – mainly just playing around with covers really. The first music I really created was with Simon Moore when I was 15/16. Me and Simon worked well together, there seemed to be some kind of click between us. I didn’t have to explain the direction or sound I wanted from a song I was writing; Simon just understood on a subconscious level and the songs almost wrote themselves.
When I went to college in the late 90’s, me and Simon drifted apart both musically and as close friends. We didn’t talk for nearly ten years. A few years ago we met up and Simon joined me in as a guitarist in The Rolling Down Hills – we wrote a lot of new material together and started gigging again. Before Simon joined I had a brief collaboration with a friend Andy Taylor (one third of The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican), just writing songs but never really performing. You’re a friend was the only piece we recorded together. That was the first incarnation of The Rolling Down Hills but it was short-lived, but I still think You’re a Friend was one of the best songs I’ve ever written with someone else.
Another band after college was Laskiampari, a band made up of me, my brothers Matt and Scott (Doonican) and my sister Sarah. We gigged often; mainly in Derbyshire. The music we played was a mix of covers and original material (think Cake mixed with REM – Jason). Being family, our vocals seemed to work very well together, adding four-part harmonies whenever we could. Towards the end, Scott wanted to do more covers and comedy songs, and to be honest, it just wasn’t my thing… my song writing was more serious than that and there wasn’t a place for it. After a fall out or two, laskiampari split. That group ran for nearly ten years and every once in a while, Scott and I play some of those songs together at open mics.
It was a long time after that I finally gave playing in a band another go. I concentrated on my own material for a long while… not performing, just writing and recording.
Another short-lived band was The Metro Sheets. We never got to gigging stages, but we wrote some very catchy tunes before distance between band members forced us to call it a day. We were playing for fun and not for anyone else; and to be honest it was good, even though no-one had chance to hear us.
Getting together with Summer happened almost by accident. Summer moved to the UK from Australia last year, to live with her then boyfriend, who’s a friend of mine. I first met her and heard her play at a friend’s party. I’d took a guitar to the party and when someone said she played, I passed her the guitar. I was wowed by her style and most of all her voice. A month or two later, I went to an open mic night and she was there, and again I was amazed. A week or two after that I got a text from Summer asking If I’d like to help her out a her first official Barnsley gig. I was more than happy to help.
We only really had only about ten hours practice in all. I had to cram learning all of Summer’s songs, like revising for a last-minute exam. As a musician, it’s not so much about learning just chords or lead riffs but more so, learning the character of a song… where there are pauses, natural breaks in the music etc. As I was singing backing vocals as well, I had to learn exactly where to come in and at the same time, figure out the harmonies or write a contrasting bass or lead guitar melody. The hard part was to do it subtly without taking anything away from Summer’s original style.
We have our second gig at the White Bear in Barnsley this next week; again, without much time to rehearse. We’re hoping we can do a few songs I’ve written as well as Summer’s this time round. In the future we’ve talked about writing material together. Everything is still very new and still progressing. There’s no definite plan of what we’re wanting to do but I find it all very exciting musically.
Mine and Summer’s playing styles are very similar; moody folk acoustic, a little dark sometimes, so I think this will help us fine our own sound. I think we both enjoy making music more for ourselves than for anyone else. To me if anyone else likes it, then fair enough.
And 10 Flaws Down? You’ve known Paul the drummer for many years now. How did you come to join the band – why the move from fronting a group to playing bass?
I’d known most of the members of 10 Flaws Down as a band when they were the Black and White Flames and then later as Nowhere>Fast. I’d seen them play in Sheffield a number of times. Andy Taylor who I original started The Rolling Down Hills with was the connecting piece in the puzzle. I had also done a photoshoot for them when they were Nowhere>fast. Nowhere>fast split and Andy left the band along with their Bass player. Dave replaced Andy on guitar and the new band, now 10 Flaws Down, started asking for a bass player on Facebook etc. I dropped Paul a message… I’d never played bass in a band before, other and a few songs with Laskiampari, but I knew I could do something to add to their sound.
That night I wrote and recorded a song on bass (Drinks Before the Party) and sent it to Paul. A week later I was in the band.
I moved to playing bass as a personal challenge really… and I needed an outlet for my heavier music. I write all the time, most songs find a home in my acoustic solo stuff or previously with The Rolling Down Hills, but I had a growing number of heavier songs that didn’t have a home.
It’s hard to place it into a category, as all the songs are very different. There are three of us that write and bring music to the table in the band; Matt the singer, Dave on guitar and me on bass. It makes each song a little different. If you listen closely, you can figure out who started writing each song… or I can anyway. We’ve recently wrote a couple of tunes where I sing and Matt takes up bass. It’s good to have that flexibility and there’s no egos about anything. Again we’re just making music because we love it. It’s good to have the talent in a band so we can swap instruments or all sing if we fancy it… for me that’s why I am really enjoying it.
All the songs have a vibe that ties them together. The only word I can use to explain it is “fuzz”. Paul tends not to write any of the music. His drums seem to be the string tying us all together. He’s always been an exceptional drummer.
Tell me a little about your solo material.
My solo material is more of a porthole into my mind. The lyrics or meanings of the songs are very personal. I’m a little more guarded about them in public and I’m a little selective about which songs I go out and gig. Every song has a memory for me and sometimes it’s harder to play certain songs live because of that.
Saying that, with some of the songs, I didn’t even figure out what they were about until years later; your sub consciousness know better than you do sometimes. It takes a while for your conscious thoughts to catch on to things. Like I said before, I write and create music as a kind of escapism – to get the thoughts in my head out, especially so with my solo material.
I find it very hard to write anything when I’m content with life. Most of my songs are written when something’s either getting me down or troubling me in some way or another, which is another reason why I’m a little guarded about gigging some of my songs.
Who are your favourite acts on the Barnsley music scene right now?
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Georgina Gilmartin a few times over the last few years. I really enjoy her music. I love songs/musicians with lyrics you can really hear. sometimes lyrics can blend that much into the music that you can’t hear what the song is about. Georgina’s songs have lyrics and meanings that are crystal clear, and she has a wonderful voice.
On a larger level after their Alternative Barnsley gig, I’m loving Servers. I never would have never had heard them if it wasn’t for Alt Barnsley. I bought their album at the launch gig and it’s on my CD player on the commute to work a lot at the moment.
So far, the Barnsley mainstream as alluded you, but in the last two years you have become a more prominent fixture, playing with The Rolling Downhills and playing solo at a number of open mics. However, you’re still relatively unknown to many. Why do you think that is?
I’ve never really wanted to be part of a mainstream anything, and in the past I’ve really only made music for myself… but in all honesty, after Laskiampari split up in a bad way, I was reluctant to join another band for a long time, or in fact share anything I was doing. I’d say in the last year or so I’ve started thinking differently about things like that. I’m less worried about other people’s opinions. I’m not sure my guitar skills are as up to scratch as they should be, so I still get very nervous when playing my own stuff in front of people.
With The Rolling Down Hills for example, I could concentrate on writing, then live I only had to sing and play lead guitar. It made me less nervous. I have the age-old problem of writing a complicated guitar part and being able to play it fine until I’m in a room full of people looking at me, then my heart starts pounding, I get butterflies and worry that much that I screw up. Playing with the Down Hills has upped my confidence in general though, like I say lately, I’m not a worried.
I think people will only really know a musician or band that is gigging and promoting all the time… six or seven gigs a year, just isn’t enough. On the other hand as soon as you are “mainstream” (I don’t really like the word mainstream), I’m not sure it’s always a good thing. Some musicians over-gig and over-promote themselves until you are sick of hearing about them – and the same old faces turn up to gigs all the time… it’s just not what my music is about.
Okay, let’s go through some of your favourite records…
What’s the record that got you through school?
Anything by Nirvana really – I was a big Nirvan fan… not so much Nevermind but everything else. Don’t get me wrong Nevermind was a good album, but possibly too commercial for me to spend much time listening to it. I liked the earlier stuff, Bleach, Insesticide.
I never really fit in at school – I could count the small number of those into rock/alternative music on one hand. The rest were into Rave, Uprising, or Take That. Nirvana, Pearl jam and Alice in Chains brought me through school. My life changed on the first day of college though; I realised I wasn’t alone any more.
What’s the record that made you want to play guitar?
I never really wanted to play guitar like that… learning guitar was more a necessity if I was to write my own songs. Words always came first, but without the guitar, there wasn’t a melody. Writing was and still is a way for me to understand things, emotions/ideas/whatever; not really about making music… It’s hard to explain.
What’s the record that made you realise what a performer is?
Not so much a record, more a film. The Doors – I’d listened to The Doors and even played some covers in the first ever band I was in at school, but It wasn’t until I watched The Doors film and then live footage of Jim Morrison that I truly realised what a performer was; someone that can make a crowd love them, hate them and want to be them all at the same time. The problem I think that Jim had was that it wasn’t so much a performance – it was who he was.
What’s that one record from your teenage years that you keep on going back to?
Probably Marilyn Manson’s Tourniquet. The Antichrist Superstar is an album I revisit regularly. Even though musically my tastes have changed (I shouldn’t really say changed but more added to), I still love this album.
What the last truely amazing songwriter you came across?
That’s a hard question to answer – and the answer could change for me personally on a regular basis depending on my mood. Today I’d say Jason Lytle. He used to front Grandaddy. His last solo album Dept. of Disappearance is amazing. It’s a bit pop, and a bit alternative, but it just works. His music always gives me something to think about.
Eddie Vedder is another great songwriter and someone I’ve followed since I was a teenager, be it with Pearl Jam or on his own.
Have you ever heard a record and thought, fuck it, I might as well not bother. I’ll never be that good?
Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No.5, any classical music really… I’ve always admired it but knew that musically I could never be that good. In my early years of playing guitar, a friend of mine said that classical music was just heavy metal without the distortion. On his advice I tried to learn Paganini’s Caprice No.5. After learning just a small section, my mind and fingers hurt. I did tell myself then that I may as well not bother. Luckily, I came away from it with a little guitar theory and a wounded ego.
What’s your drinking record?
Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) – by The Doors – It brings back a few drunken hazy memories.
SUMER GREENWOOD & LEWIS RYAN PLAY AT THE WHITE BEAR ON WEDNESDAY 14th MAY, 8pm. ENTRY IS FREE.
10 FLAWS DOWN SUPPORT MYNAS @ THE POLISH CLUB ON SUNDAY 18th MAY, 5pm.