INTERVIEW: J.R. Harbidge


very top.jpg

J.R. Harbidge


THE excellent J.R. Harbidge


has provided a detailed interview where he discusses his latest single, Turn the Screw, and what we can expect from his forthcoming album, First Ray of Light. I ask which artists inspire him and what sort of music he reacts to strongest – he provides the names of some upcoming musicians worth some time.

I was keen to know whether we can expect to see Harbidge touring and whether he has a favourite memory from music; which three albums are most important to him; if he gets time to chill away from the demands of a songwriter – he ends the interview with a fantastic song.


Hi, J R. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi, M.M. - thanks for having me. My week, as always, has been hectic: I never seem to have the time to catch up on anything. I’m sure it’s like that for millions of people, though. My most musical moment this week was trying out some new material at Spiritual Records open mic night in Camden. It went well. A lot of people listened intently and the new track, Sunshine Not Rain, went down really well.

Had some great feedback. 

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Somebody once said to me: “Your music is Folk/Americana/Roots/Country/Rock and commercial without being commercial”. I quite like that. It ticks all of my boxes! I would say, if you like Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams; The Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Jackson Browne and the Eagles, then you will like my music. 

Other than that, I have been in music all my life. I started playing guitar at nine after seeing Iron Maiden on Top of the Pops. I played my first gig at fourteen and I have been on the treadmill of writing, gigging and recording ever since. 

Turn the Screw is your debut single. Can you reveal the story and how the song came together?

Turn the Screw was my reaction to the financial crisis a few years ago and how we shouldn’t trust an institution just because it’s an institution. The song also touches on the repercussions of the crisis. How everything is too expensive - it’s becoming impossible for many people to just exist. A bit depressing, really. 

The album, First Ray of Light, is out in October. What sort of themes and stories influence the music?

I think the albums underlying message is hope and positivity; however, a lot of the songs have their genesis in depression, anxiety; loss and there are a few political themes also. 

There are a couple of songs I haven’t really talked about yet in interviews so I’d like to cover them. There is a song called Something to Hide. It’s, essentially, about the idea of having an affair or doing something behind someone’s back that you know would really hurt them and trying to live with the secret – and, before you ask, it’s not about me; it’s a coming together of experiences gleaned from people I know. 

Another song I haven't really talked about is Have Mercy. It’s the only co-write on the album. I wanted to write a song that sounded old, like a trad. Folk song. This was my best effort at that. A lot of the bigger songs on the album, like When You Don’t Love Your Man, and A Side of You That Cares are rooted in depression and how someone on the outside of that disease sees and handles it. Learn to Love the Rain is about loss and how that can really affect your day to day life and the struggle to cope with such an enormous thing.  


Is there a song from the album that stands as a personal favourite?

Each song has been a favourite at some point during the process but I always go back to A Side of You That Cares. It’s unusual in the way that the song builds and then just drops right down when you are expecting it to take off. It’s quite a long song but the instrumental middle eight is probably my favourite part of any song I’ve written. 

What was it like working with producer Gavin Monaghan? Did you learn a lot?

I worked with Gav a few times over the years - not on this record but on a lot of other projects. He was my first real introduction to the art of recording. I learned a hell of a lot just watching him work. I used to ask him question after question whilst he was mixing a song. I’m sure it drove him mad but he’s such a nice guy he answered all of them. 

I took most of what I learned into the studio when I started recording this album. 

I get the impression that classic Folk artists like Neil Young and Bob Dylan are big heroes. Who did you grow up listening to?

Yes. You’re right. 

There were three records on constant rotation in our house when I was growing up: Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Paranoid by Black Sabbath and The Beatles ‘best of’. I would say they were played heavily. Neil Young’s Harvest and After the Gold Rush wad also played a lot in the house. So, I was bombarded with melody and harmony from day one..and that’s what I try to put into my songs. 


Which musicians did you grow up listening to? Who do you count as idols?

My first musical obsession was IRON MAIDEN. They were the band that made me want to pick up a guitar, so Dave Murray was my first guitar hero. Then, I moved on to Led Zep, Deep Purple; Rainbow and idolised Page and Blackmore. C.S.N.&Y. were my other childhood obsession. I have every record C.S.N. or any member has put out and I’ve read everything there is to read about them. Love C.S.N.  

Since 2001, however, Ryan Adams has been my main musical obsession. I first heard Rescue Blues whilst waiting for an old girlfriend to come home from university; sitting in my little V.W. van in heavy rain.  As soon as I heard that song, it triggered something inside - just like Iron Maiden had years earlier. 

What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

Realistically and musically, I would love my music to be being listened to by more and more people and I would love to see more and more people coming to live shows. I am hoping that I can at least touch the U.K. Americana chart with the album. Just getting into the chart at the bottom can open up a lot of doors and help prolong my music career. 

Personally, I just want to be happy and for my family and friends to be happy. Not a lot to ask really. 

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?

I have been playing, gigging and recording for more years than I care to reveal, so there have been many moments…

A band I was in at the end of the '90s sold out Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham. That was an achievement. I am very proud of the album I released with my last band, Third Bullet (Revelations Revisited). We also had a song licensed to a Harley Davidson commercial from that album. More recently, I recorded two singles at Abbey Road. That was on my bucket list. I recently found out Paul McCartney was in Studio 3 whilst we were in The Gatehouse studio. O.M.G.! 


Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)? 

This is a tough one because tomorrow they could be three different albums. 

I guess the first would have to be Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Simply because, if I hadn’t heard that album, I would never have picked up a guitar. 

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Déjà Vu would be my second choice

It’s a masterclass in songwriting. I love every track. Each writer’s songs are so uniquely their own but they all sit so well together on one album. The harmonies are out of this world and each song is rich in melody. I could go on for hours about this album. 

I am going to throw a curve ball album in here. It’s by a band that never got the recognition it deserved but I still play it to this day. The band was Montrose Avenue and the album was Thirty Days Out

I think it was released around '98. As soon as I heard the first single, She’s Looking for Me, I was a fan and saw them at The Foundry in Birmingham. They were a modern-day C.S.N.&Y. Every song on that album is a gem. I only wish they had l stayed together and recorded another. I think one guitarist ended up being the second guitarist in Stereophonics and the drummer, I believe, is a presenter on BBC Radio 6 Music. 


If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

It has to be Ryan Adams and my rider would be whiskey, water; cowboy boots, a couple of dancing girls; a white limo, some drugs; a record player, clean underwear and a salami.  

Can we see you on tour soon? What dates are coming up?

I am just about to confirm/announce a Cafe Nero tour (no white limos on that rider). The launch gig/party is on 5th October at The Malt (Shovel) Aston-on-Trent, Derbyshire. I will be announcing some record store dates soon.

The full band tour will be later in the year.

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Don’t follow trends: be who you are and write songs that are true to you. Don’t try and be the next Little Mix or whoever it is you like. Listen to people who know what they are talking about. When you are young you ‘know’ everything but you really don’t - so take advice. It might be advice you don’t like but it could be the advice you need. 


IN THIS PHOTO: Nicki Bluhm

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

I love the first record by Bennett Wilson Poole. That’s a great album. It ticks a lot of boxes for me: Harmonies, melody and great musicianship. I also absolutely love Nicki Bluhm and Courtney Marie Andrews - not strictly new but they will be new to a list of people in the U.K. Going down a Rock road; I REALLY, REALLY love the debut from Wayward Sons. I saw them at download and they were amazing. I am also loving Jade Bird. I don’t think she has much out yet but what I have seen of her she is an awesome talent - and so young. Well jel. 



Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Music is the thing I do to unwind…and sleeping and drinking ale. 

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Ok. Sounds cool. You can play On & On by the Longpigs. When I first heard this song it made me cry. It’s in my top-three songs of all time. The album is one of the best debut albums of all time for me


Follow J.R. Harbidge