Michael Green Interviews... Stephen Jones
Originally posted on April 30th 2020 here is a Q & A with musician and performer Stephen Jones. He talked about his experiences in music.
Where did it all start for you getting into music?
My parents used to take me to the local Cèilidh dances. My mum used to drag me up to dance which was mortifyingly embarrassing for a 15yr old. I loved the music though. So one night she introduced me to the band’s Bodhran player/teacher who also happened to be my neighbour and he taught me my first instrument and put me in my first band as a bodhran player. I let slip one day that I’d really love to sing too and then I was the bands Sean-nos singer as well. Sean-nos singing is traditionally done unaccompanied and generally involved a whole room sitting in hushed silence while you do your thing. The old style songs where great stories really and singing without music became second nature. I was singing with the Cèilidh band one night at a party for the local priest (how very Father Ted) when I met a guitarist called Alex who put a small band around me and we took on Bedford’s pubs. Largely I’ve been doing the same thing till now. Who are your influences? Back on n the early days it was Irish Folk bands like the Dubliners, Chieftains and the Pogues. Then there was a mini celtic revival in the 90’s so I learned the songs of the water boys and saw doctors and the like. However once I learned guitar properly it was Brit Pop in the charts and so I started to take on different styles of singing. Today I try and aim for singers who have a quality that I want to try and emulate so my vocal range gets a bigger vocabulary of tones that I can employ. My low range is borrowed from Christie Moore, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Paul Weller. My high range is more Sting, Bon Jovi etc. Singers I’m still striving for include AcDc Brian Johnson and Freddy Mercury but my Axel Rose is almost there. What's your process for learning songs to perform? I’m lucky in my range so I don’t generally have to worry about hitting the notes anymore. So now it’s about learning the lyrics first. I’m lucky enough to struggle with time in my life nowadays so I generally make a playlist on my phone of 3-4 songs and listen on repeat when I’m driving. Then I look on you tube to get ideas around the acoustic options and arrangements and then I gig them to get them embedded.
Solstice performing 'Shallow'
How important is it do you feel it is to listen to current music as well as music from the past?
I think person to person friendship and community is the only way to get new songs in to your life for me. I don’t listen to new songs really at all unless someone I know puts that song in my life. Sometimes a song comes along that is new to me and I think I’m all cutting edge for a second and then I realise it was written in the 90’s or something. I wouldn’t say I’m stuck in the past but I would say that for me it’s largely irrelevant when a song was written. Its the influence of the people around me that drives the exploration of music for me.
Do you feel it is important to watch other acts perform and to watch other live music?
I struggle to find time if I’m honest. I’m very fortunate to have a few friends that play in various bands and I do go and see them. For me it’s about a scene with my friends rather than a search for ideas. I came across a lot of musicians when I hosted an open mic in town for a few years. I always loved that mutual recognition and respect musicians give each other. I guess it’s an appreciation of different styles, skill sets and interpretations.
Finally what tips do you have for anyone starting out when it comes to performing in front of an audience?
Get some mates that can join you. Open mics or jams are good. Just get 3 songs down and get out there. For me the fear of standing up and singing in front of people was very much out weighed by the fear of living my whole life never having done it.
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