It’s a Wednesday night at Sheffield pub The Frog and Parrot, the stomping ground for an array of the city’s higher profile talent to perform stripped back acoustic set’s to a laid back audience. Tonight though, I’m not here by chance, I’m here for a reason; to meet one of the city’s most technically gifted performers, Ian Britt. Ian is a man who’s built an interesting musical career on a platform formed by his immaculate voice and undying ability to write catchy easy listening songs to suit any occasion. We’re chatting tonight because Ian’s forthcoming and long awaited comeback album ‘Box’ is due out on July 11th, and I wanted to find out what brought him to this album, as well as what the future holds for Ian Britt.
Ian’s just finished his set, playing about 6 or 7 songs to a crowd of friends and a few rowdy passers by at the bar. “How do you think that went?” I asked him, my personal highlight of the set being an acoustic cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’. “Not bad,” he answered “Better than I thought, I enjoyed it other than the bar choir at the end,” the bar choir of course being the set of hecklers by the bar – I assure him “I don’t understand why people like that bother coming to this type of bar,” and we make for the quieter setting of the smoking area for further discussions.
Confident, as all performers have to be, yet never crossing into the realms of cockiness – far from it – Ian’s the type of performer who’ll let his music do the talking. I explain to him that I’ve been listening to his myspace all afternoon to get myself acquainted, “Poor you,” he quips, but this was as far as the small talk takes us and we get straight into it.
“It’s weird for me, because I got completely sick of the whole singer/songwriter thing, I never really set out to be that.”
Ian started playing guitar at 7 years old. Usually it’s a relative, school teacher or children’s entertainer who inspires a child so young to pick up their first instrument, in this case the story was very different. He explains how he was inspired by Michael J Fox in Back To The Future; “I started playing guitar because there’s a bit in that [Back To The Future] where he plays guitar and I just wanted to be Michael J Fox.” His earliest actual musical influences though were from his Dad’s side, “My Mum’s musical taste was shit, I used to listen to a lot of my Dad’s music though, Randy Newman, Graceland, Talking Heads – that sort of thing.”
It was whilst at University of Salford studying Music that Ian managed to scratch his musical mark in bigger ways, improving his technique and understanding in all forms of music, he managed to get his first record out in his last year at University.
The first stage of his musical touring career was far from boring he explains as he flicks the outdoor heating on – it’s a cold June night and we both only have thin layers on. “It was the first record which really helped things take off over there. I was working with an EP called ‘Big Light’, there was a track on that called ‘Dedicate’ that got a shit-load of air play.” Ian first managed to make the jump to Holland on a whim, “A friend of mine was playing in a festival over there, well i say festival,” he gestures quotation marks with his fingers whilst elaborating, “inverted fucking, in quotes, festival. A shit load of us jumped on board and lucky for me I made a few friends over there, which then became my manager and booking agent.”
Life on the road for a young solo artist is never easy though, especially when touring Holland as extensively as Ian did, as a consequence the tour had to come to an unfortunate end. “We had a massive schedule, something like 3 months. I ended up getting reyt stressed out, my head went a bit tits up, so I just said ‘right, enough’s enough’ and I came back to Sheffield in early 2009 and said I’m not fucking touring.” Some people might think he’d regret his opportunity to capitalise on a slightly glimmering opportunity of fame, but touring’s not for everyone he explains without one iota of remorse; “I was touring for long periods of time, and to organise it all on your own is fucking reyt stressful, too stressful.”
Now back in Sunny Sheffield, ready to release his solo album ‘Box’, Ian is always looking for a new challenge; “What we’re looking to do is get this album out there, do the short UK tour, then I’ve formed a band, which I’m looking to get into operation by the end of this year,” we talk more about the future a little later.
His album is very much a long body of work, stretching back a number of years, Ian expresses a keen desire to move on and create something new; “We came back and forth to the record label, they kept saying the album needed tweeking. Then we went back at the beginning of this year and they told me it’d lost what it originally had – before they ended up going bust anyway. So I thought, right I can’t go away and work on this album for another year, because the record industry moves on so quickly, so I decided to release it myself this summer.
I thought I can either keep banging on about this record, because I’ve been pushing the material for well over a year now, or I can move on [slight pause] as an artist would do.” He says the last line with his eyebrow raised, as if to say did I just say that? Britt’s artistic intelligence is there for all to be seen though, his passion, his vision and his intensity all drive his musical profile, they are what make his songs not just music, but art.
Keen to hear about where he feels the future lies for Ian Britt, I ask about his new band. “We’re sort of a cross between Rage Against The Machine and Huey Lewis and The News.” Gobsmacked I can’t withhold my laughter, the contrast couldn’t be greater between Ian Britt the solo artist and his new direction. He carries on explaining, “I don’t know, it’s weird for me, because I got completely sick of the whole singer/songwriter thing.
I never really set out to be that [singer/songwriter], I don’t really listen to that kind of music, but it was just easy to just get up and write songs then go and gig with them.” He continued explaining the problems he’s faced since been in the band, “Your probably thinking what’s he doing sorting a band out, people are a nightmare – well they can be – and I’m a bit of a control freak as well which makes things stressful.” It is an arduous task forming a band, practice can be hard to arrange because of different work schedules, talent may be limited around someone like Ian, but he explains how he’s come to terms with these problems; “It’s difficult trying to organise a band, especially after being a solo artist all this time, but I know how a band works. It just takes time, you know, but I knew that before I started because there’s more people to work around, and with I suppose.”
To finish up I wanted to hear Ian’s view of Tramlines festival. Knowing the Sheffield music scene, like the bands are the cobbles in his own back garden – Ian has collaborated with a number of local bands, most notably a one off with The Ratells. “I think it’s good [Tramlines], there’s two separate lines, on one end there’s the Tinchy Stryder bit with all that shit, then on the other there’s the bit which I think Tramlines is all about, the local music scene.” Speaking of last years experience; “There was loads of people here [Frog and Parrot] last year who I didn’t recognise, so for me that was quite a fulfilling experience and it made me sort of say, ‘hold on here, fuckin’ hell, I’ve got proper fans here.” This year Ian will be pitching up at the Frog again on the Friday night, before playing SoYo and Old House on the weekend.
Ian Britt is a man keen to do new things, after producing a brilliant solo album with multiple depths. The record is out in the summer, then he’ll throw his full weight behind his next project, . In his own words, “I just want to keep moving forwards now, something I hate doing is fucking moving backwards.” Full steam ahead and if my calculations are correct, when this thing hits eighty-eight miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit – we had to throw a Back To The Future Reference in somewhere.