INTERVIEW: Brit-nominated John Newman talks about his background and career

The Westmorland Gazette: Chart topper John Newman Chart topper John Newman

IF there was a sound that summed up 2013, the soulful pop anthems belted out by Settle’s John Newman would have to be one of the main contenders.

At just 23 years old, John is starting his new year by heading off on a huge UK tour, followed by dates in Europe, and then the USA.

Severely jet-lagged and exhausted, John says he is still having the time of his life, confessing, “I actually hate time off – the bit I enjoy is the work.

“I think a lot of what people enjoy in this business is the going out and getting smashed, but I don’t like that, I enjoy the creative side.”

He’s also coming off the back of a year that has seen him perform at the Royal Variety Show, the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards, not to mention the news that he has been nominated for two Brit Awards.

As well as picking up a Best British Single nomination for his smash hit ‘Love Me Again’, the chart-topper will be going up against, among others, David Bowie, for Best British Male Solo Artist.

“It was so overwhelming,” John recalls on receiving the news, “it all seemed to happen so quickly.”

But his rise to fame, he insists, has not been as meteoric as it seems.

“If someone saw me on Sports Personality for example, which is a massive show, they’d suddenly start noticing me everywhere.

“But I started DJing in Settle 10 years ago, and since then I’ve just worked, and worked, and worked.

“It’s been a long process, but I know it doesn’t happen for many people, so I feel very lucky.”

Born and raised in the Yorkshire Dales, John grew up as part of a ‘poor, but happy’ family unit, made up of his mother and brother, after his father left the family when John was six.

He credits his mother – a Motown fanatic who danced to Northern Soul at Wigan Pier – with making him a ‘music listener’.

“Musicians listen to music in quite a technical way, whereas for listeners it’s more simple and based on whether you enjoy it or not, and my mum gave me an early education in that.”

On the influence of Northern Soul on his own work, he says: “It’s a beautiful piece of music that I can always go back to that’s not based on hype, and that won’t be forgotten in ten years.”

After building his first studio in the cupboard under the stairs, his first musical incarnation was as a DJ at local weddings and birthday parties, before teaching himself guitar.

Influenced by everything from Motown to dubstep, John started producing his own instrumentals with a laptop, guitar, and a set of speakers.When he started to sing over them, a solo career began to flourish in local venues.

Music was a constant during his teenage years.

Songwriting has always come naturally to him.

“It just naturally happened because it’s always been a way of me expressing myself.

“It’s like a lyrical punchbag. I have things to say, and sometimes I just have to get them out.”

His debut album, ‘Tribute’, was famously written about a break-up, but he says his songs can be “about anything – there’s one track on there about a guy that annoyed me on a night out.”

John initially started studying to be a mechanic, seeing music as a hobby, but, watching his brother form a band, it dawned on him what his path was.

“No disregard to mechanics, or to people from Settle, but I wanted something different, so I decided to go to Leeds to study music, and that’s where I started thinking about how I could become an artist.”

From Leeds, the next logical step seemed to be London, where he got a manager and was signed to Island Records.

It was also where he met Piers Agget, who went on to be part of drum’n’bass collective Rudimental.

While working with the Rudimental boys, the song that would change John’s life was born – number one single ‘Feel The Love’, as well as hit follow-up ‘Not Giving In’.

Bizarrely, the first time he heard ‘Feel The Love’ on the radio was while he was in hospital after having surgery to remove a brain tumour, an experience he describes as ‘absolutely crazy’.

His success snowballed once he started to release his solo material.

The single ‘Love Me Again’ was one of the biggest-selling tracks of 2013, and the album, ‘Tribute’, beat Paul McCartney to the Number One spot in October.

Despite his growing fame, John takes pride in still being very much a one-man operation when it comes to ‘creative decisions’ – writing, producing, and even designing his own clothes.

“I love having creative control.

“I hate it when people in my team say ‘Oh you don’t need to worry about that’

 “I always say ‘Why? I’ve got to put my name on it. What if somebody’s made a wrong decision?’

“I’m the one who has to sit there in an interview and explain it.”

This need to be in control, he admits, can make it hard to ‘switch off’ during his live performances.

“When you’re so involved in everything, it’s hard to cut yourself off and enjoy the show but, at the end of the day, the reason I do it is that I want to impress the people that have paid to see me.”

John’s tour dates can be found at www.johnnewman.co.uk/

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