Did you know Ed Sheeran has his own restaurant? It’s called Bertie Blossoms, it’s located in Notting Hill and it’s where I met with Tim Prottey-Jones for the second episode of No Chords But The Truth podcast.
Ed is partial to country music. Collaborations with Taylor Swift and Chris Stapleton have seen him dip his toe in the proverbial cowboy boot. He even told Keith Urban backstage at C2C to check out Foy Vance. And we know what happened next (if you don’t, Google it and watch).
But today is all about Tim Prottey-Jones. We sit back in leather armchairs in the private room on the top floor of Bertie Blossoms, sip a delicious drink (Tim – whisky, me – gin, sometimes vodka so…), and we catch up on what was a rollercoaster 2019. We talk about one of the highlights being The British Country Music Festival in Blackpool, his incredibly eclectic music career (which includes West End shows, reality TV, playing in bands and producing) and we delve into what aspect of the music scene he finds most difficult. To listen, subscribe for free to No Chords But The Truth on your favourite podcast app.
Tim confessed that social media is very much his Achilles heel and after our chat it got me thinking. Social media IS the internet now. It just is. It’s part of our everyday lives. It doesn’t have to be. Plenty choose to limit or ignore it. But you can’t do that if you’re a musician with any ambition. And that’s important. To reiterate. You DON’T need it if you’re a musician. You DO need it if you’re ambitious.
You see plenty of artists that try and fail because they are ignoring the basics. Engage with others. Post regularly. BE YOURSELF. Some people even post in the third person. Don’t get me started… Actually, do get me started. Why are you doing that?! You’re putting a barrier between you and your audience.
Back in the autumn up at The British Country Music Festival at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, Tim and I actually talked about all of this and since then, he’s gone on to show more of his personality and personal life on social. He’s even recording metal covers of unlikely songs on TikTok – and as you’ll hear in the podcast, he feels closer to the country/Americana community than he ever has before. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
So, if you’re an artist who isn’t engaging with your fans on social as much as you know you probably should, now this piece is finished, go post! Talk to your audience! Engage with your peers. Now!
You can hear the full conversation with Tim Prottey-Jones on the No Chords But The Truth podcast on iTunes, Spotify and all your favourite podcast apps.If reading is your thing a full transcript of the show is available below.
Tim Prottey-Jones: Country Journey, West End Hiatus and the Difficult Bits.
Welcome to this episode of No Chords but the Truth podcast in association with The British Country Music Festival (@tbcmf). My name is Matt Spracklen (@mattspracklen) and I’m sat here with my good friend Tim Prottey-Jones (@TimProtteyJones) at Bertie Blossoms in Notting Hill. We’ve just had some lovely dinner and some beautiful drinks, and we’ve had an incredible conversation all about Tim’s journey into Country, his musical theatre hiatus and his insight into the British country music scene. So, without any further ado or any more nonsense from me, this is the conversation with Tim Prottey-Jones.
Tim Prottey-Jones Matt Spracklen
General chat whilst settling…..
It’s quite nice in here actually
It’s lovely to see you.
And to you. Happy New Year to you.
Happy New Year to you as well mate. What a way to start the year? Just chatting about… well, I don’t know what we’re going to chat about yet.
One of the first things I want ask you today, mate, is actually quite a hard one and deep and quite personal and that is…how do you get your beard looking like that?
Genetics from my Mum! I’m joking! She doesn’t have a beard! I really don’t do much to it. It’s just I have very, very straight hair for one, so it just hangs and flaps off my face. I wouldn’t say it’s thick and luscious, it just hangs well.
Hangs well doesn’t it?
I don’t need to trim it or anything. It just….
What it just stops growing at that length?
I’ll trim the ends a little but not much. Blessed.
Blessed. #blessed. #beardblessed.
That will now be an Instagram hashtag.
#beardblessed – I love it!
So here we are at Bertie Blossoms.
It’s lovely isn’t it?
It’s really nice. For those watching in black and white, we are sat on two lovely leather sofas, well leather armchairs.
Yeah, there must be a word for them.
We need a smoking jacket on really.
We really do.
There’s a lovely vintage mirror on the wall.
I’m massively against smoking but a vaping jacket? No, I don’t even like that.
Just a jacket.
Just a jacket is fine.
Just a jacket is good.
And it’s Ed Sheeran’s restaurant.
It’s very nice of him to let us come in.
It is good of Ed. Cheers Ed and we’ve got drinks on the way and then we are going to have something to eat so we have got our menu’s here. So, we are going to chat about everything, music mainly, and then all country and all sorts and we are going to eat and drink stuff.
And be merry.
And be merry. See how merry I can get you.
Oh, God good luck! Well I don’t really drink so probably one will be enough and then I’ll be talking about all sorts.
That’s right and you’ve already been busy today already so thanks for joining us.
I’ve just come from a rehearsal in the furthest depths of East London.
Bow Road or something.
Is it in Bow?
Yeah, it’s near there.
What were you doing there?
I was rehearsing with Sir Jake Morrell. He’s got a gig on Thursday at ‘The Water Rats’ and yeah, it’s sounding great. It should be a good night, I think. Emily Faye is supporting and yeah it should be a cracker.
I’m hoping to go.
Please do. We’ve not done a headline London show for quite a while I don’t think because Jake never stops. He’s a machine but he’s all up and down the country so I think this will be a nice sort of hometown(ish) gig, more for me than him now, from Norfolk, but yeah it’s going to be a cracker I think.
You seem to be spreading yourself everywhere like you’re producing, you’re obviously doing a lot of co-writes. The Condors the other day? That looked cool?
Yeah, yeah that was really great actually. The Condors are wonderful. For anyone who doesn’t know them, they’re not really country at all but there are a few little influences in there.
It reminded me of Nathanial Rateliff from The Night Sweats?
Oh yeah, yeah. Two unbelievable voices, really great voices, really great songs so they’re working on their next release now and it’s proper exciting. It’s lovely to go to them and see where they live and work and I think sometimes that sort of thing brings a different vibe depending on where you are working and stuff because you can get very comfortable working in your own studio, or in your own house or whatever, so going somewhere else where you need to have a bit of a trek to it, I think it just gives you a slightly different frame of mind and perspective. So, it was really nice. I loved it.
Are you producing with them as well?
No at the moment it’s just writing. We are going to do some more as well, which is nice. Obviously. it didn’t got too badly if they want to do it again, so thank you to them.
Jess and I bond over ‘80’s power ballads predominantly. That’s not what we’re writing, but it’s just what we love to do.
So ‘80’s power ballads? I was going to say I can’t pin you to anything.
Obviously, you’ve played in Americana bands and your ‘The Fatherline’ is fairly Americana sounding and it’s got some country….would you call it country?
Not really. I don’t know what it is. It’s very much a passion project and a sort of a born out of necessity. At that time those songs needed to be written and performed.
But then you go on TikTok and you’re screaming metal?
I know. I’m on TikTok because of you, because you said it was the future.
It’s my fault. It is the future.
I’m quite obsessed with watching pranks in India (laughs). There is a lot of them on there. Have you seen those? They are very good.
The thing is though, the more that you watch of them, that’s all you’ll get.
I know they keep showing up (laughs)
It’s the algorithms.
They’re the oddest things. Indian pranks, who knew? Is that a genre?
It’s a good name for a band.
It is isn’t it? Indian pranks? I love that. I just looked them up and I asked you for some advice on the old hashtags and Jake’s been offering some advice as well and yeah I just put a couple of these sort of stupid little metal cover things up.
Thanks, man. They are a lot of fun. They are a ridiculous amount of fun so yeah, songs from Frozen and the Greatest Showman and basically songs all sung by women which seems to be my genre which is nice. Songs sung by women.
But, you know, from metal to blues and ‘80’s power ballads and Americana back to the musicals. We’ve hung out a lot and we’ve spoken about all sorts of stuff and music and obviously everything you do. I’ve seen you play umpteen times but how did it all kick off? Were you always musical as a kid?
Yeah, pretty much. I started when I was about five playing the piano. Both my parents played piano. They are both teachers. My mum was a primary school teacher and played piano for assemblies and she taught at the primary school I was at, so I was kind of around that.
My dad played the piano but more sort of Welsh hymns. It was a lot of Welsh hymns I heard growing up and piano was really the only instrument I was ever taught from a young age and then from that I taught myself other instruments.
I think I was sort of rebelling against learning a lot of piano music, you know, very dated. I mean incredible stuff. I generally love it and I think it has given me such an amazing foundation of music and theory, but actually I think I just wanted to create music. I obviously didn’t know that at the time, it just felt like piano lessons were just like another lesson. You go to school all week and you still have to go and learn something.
Yeah, I was the same.
I just had a bit of a weird and strange sort of maybe photographic(ish) memory. I wasn’t someone who looked at the music and played. I looked at the music a lot and learnt it in my in my head and then just stared at my fingers hoping that I didn’t make a mistake that would’ve thrown me, because I guess with photographic memories you sort of learn things as a block, don’t you? If one thing’s missing, you can’t then just go ‘oh yeah, I’m there’, it’s sort of like ‘oh well I’ve learnt the entire page’.
That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I’ve never thought about it like that.
It’s strange and to be honest I’ve only really thought about it recently about how I actually learn stuff. I find remembering music very easy. I don’t find remembering lyrics very easy at all, but music for some reason just stays with me for a very, very long time.
I had one piano lesson. I started learning drums first when I was five or something and then turning my brothers guitar upside down so I could play ‘Something In the Way’ by Nirvana. Do you know what I mean? That was the first song I every learnt and then I was like I really want to learn piano and I had one piano lesson, but I couldn’t stretch an octave because my hands were not big enough at the time so I just gave up.
You know what they say? I don’t know what they say….
What about octaves?
It can’t be nice (laughs)
…and that was it, I just totally gave up, but for me I just had to figure everything out for myself.
I’m just glad I was very young when I was taught because as I’ve got older there is not a chance I would put that time and effort in without getting massively frustrated about stuff, so all my instrument learning was done by the time I was 13 I guess, apart from singing actually. Singing was genuinely the last thing I ever wanted to do. I was petrified. I still am petrified of singing, but it was at university when I started properly singing.
I did a music degree and obviously you’re going to get incredible musicians. So I was living with a group of amazing musicians. There was drummer, a guitarist, there was a keys player and a bassist or something and a singer and I was like ‘well I play all of those things’ but those guys didn’t play another instrument, so they were phenomenal at one thing, whereas, I’ve tried to be okay at a number of things. So, I was like ‘Oh God I’m going to get left behind here’ because they are sort of in a band and I do the same thing as all of them, so I just basically thought ‘whose the weakest link’ (laughs). Who can I compete with? I didn’t tell anyone that until now so hopefully he’s not listening, but I just thought maybe I should sing then, and I sort of locked myself in my room at Uni and just sang a lot.
I tried to reach ridiculously high notes for a bit and that was where someone played me ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ when I was at Uni. I had never heard it and didn’t know about it and I wasn’t into musicals at all and suddenly I heard Steve Balsamo singing notes that I was like ‘that’s really impressive, I reckon I might be able to do that’. That was kind of a bit of an inspiration and I keep reminding him about this now because we have ended up as really good friends which is extremely surreal. I just call him hero anytime I see him, so that is kind of where the birth of singing high notes came from for me and it was fine at Uni to do because you have got to really show your best work at Uni. It’s fairly impractical in any other musical sense to be able to sing like that, I have found. Country doesn’t need it that’s for sure. Rock and metal to a certain degree has it, so I used to do a bit of that, but no singing was really never my thing.
I DONT LOOK LIKE JESUS
So how did Jesus Christ Superstar the TV show come about?
Basically, as I said, when I heard the music at university it sort of put my head into theatre a little bit. I started to gain an appreciation for certain types of musical theatre, not all, and it culminated in there being like a semi pro production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in the Midlands which is where I was living. I had a lot of friends and ‘Gethsemane’ from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ became a bit of party piece for me. It was one song that I knew that I could do and people were saying ‘they are holding open auditions for this production you should go for it’ and I was ‘not a chance’ because a) I don’t look like Jesus at all and I don’t think had a beard at that point or I had a very short beard and I looked like I had a few meals (laughs), so I was thinking ‘this isn’t going to go well’. It was on a Sunday morning; it was 10.00am in the morning and I had to go and sing ‘Gethsemane’ which is very high, very emotional and powerful as a song. They basically phoned me later that day saying ‘we would like to offer you the role as Jesus, but you are going to have to lose some weight’ which is always nice to hear!
Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t surprised by that (laughs). I wasn’t ‘what do you mean?’ So that was my life. For three months I went to the gym every morning before work. I had a normal everyday job and I went to the gym at six o’clock in the morning and then I went to work every single day and I lost three stone in three months before the show.
Fast forward two years from there and it was the ITV version of ‘Superstar’ that started advertising on TV and immediately when I saw the adverts, I was like ‘ah no this is going to be my next dilemma now’. Do I go for it or not? I didn’t really have any intention of being on TV or anything. It wasn’t anything I’d really wanted to do but I went and it was one of those horrible cattle call, open audition things held in a hotel in London and it was just thousands of people, some of them dressed like Jesus, which was petrifying!
It then became this snowball effect of getting through rounds and I was like ‘I don’t know how this is happening.’ I went so that I didn’t kick myself that I didn’t not go and people were going ‘oh what happens if you get through on the tv?’ and I was like ‘it won’t, it won’t, it won’t’ but I just kept getting through them and I was thinking I don’t know how this happening or why. Anyway, I think Andrew Lloyd Webber saw something in me. I think he liked the fact that I wrote music which was amazing, and he did reference it a few times which was a great.
We ended up going out to his house in Palma up in the mountains and singing for him. I had a wonderful chest infection but my God, Spanish antibiotics are insanely strong! I was literally fixed within half an hour of having them so I was practically dying, and I don’t know what they were, but if you get any that would be great (laughs).
Sorry! I digress. So, mad experience and I ended up getting through to the live shows. It was everything you imagine these shows to be. I genuinely loved the process because at the time it did not feel like you were being documented because you weren’t on live TV, it felt kind of quite safe still and by the time the live shows came round it just sort of broke me a little bit. You get the instant comments from people who have seen you on TV and instantly write something. People just took that in very different ways to each other and I did not take it well. I had a bit of a breakdown after the first show and I thought that was going to be the end of it to be honest. I didn’t think I would be able to do another show. They didn’t think I was going to be able to do another show and I somehow pulled myself together enough to do the next live show. It was mad and I still had a job.
They were very kind and they gave me a sabbatical to do this process and when the TV show ended and David Hunter got me kicked out, my dear friend David! He still brings it up which is interesting. I played a gig for him at the end of last year and he very kindly introduced me to everyone because I was playing keys for him and then told everyone that basically he destroyed me on live TV, which was nice.
Anyway, when the whole process finished, Dave got in the cast of ‘Once’ which was amazing which was his dream. The experience ended and I was getting prepared to go back to work in Birmingham and I had no drive to want to go back to a normal job. I thought if anything I have proved something to myself that I can compete at this level to a certain degree and I basically quit my job which was scary, really scary.
About a week later I got a phone call from David Grindrod, the Casting Director, saying they wanted to offer me the cover of Judas, an ensemble track for the tour, Jesus Christ Superstar. It blew my mind! It was absolutely nuts but it was the best thing that ever happened and validated the fact that I left my job and not too long after that tour finished, I then did a production of ‘Rent’ on tour which was amazing and then I did ‘Once’ and joined Dave in ‘Once’ which was just insane. My first night was with him as the lead role and I was the next male role down or whatever on that sort of level.
And I never saw it.
Mate, it was the most amazing job that I have ever done, and I would do it again I think. I really would.
So, all this talk about you being a monster singer in the West End. Does that mean you can dance?
I can move.
For a big dude yeah, I can move. I think it’s the drumming thing. I’ve got rhythm which helps.
So, bridge the gap then because most of the people listening will know you as a, for want of a better work, country but Americana roots(y) artist. How and why? Two questions how? And why?
My sort of history of country… I mean I’ll be quite honest, I didn’t know what Americana was until a couple of years ago.
I was talking to Jake Morrell a couple of weeks ago and we basically came to the conclusion that is all the things we don’t really know what it is. That’s Americana.
Then great. I’ve always been that (laughs). I’ve definitely been that but country for me was listening to things like Kenny Rogers, quite easy listening country and that would have been at home, playing in the background over a Sunday lunch. I grew up knowing those songs and scooting forward a little bit I guess I really discovered that the song writing in country was something that I absolutely loved and it ticked so many boxes for me, because it was people who still really sang. Undoubtedly talented singers telling stories and I think that’s what I loved about it.
It’s almost naked isn’t it? Exposed? You have nowhere to go.
Yes of course it can sound just as good with just an acoustic guitar than it can with a full band.
So, off the back of university, when I finished my degree, that’s when I really started getting into writing music and for other people and I was so determined at that age to get my songs placed and get a publishing deal and stuff like that.
I got all these lead sheets, so I’d subscribe to all these lead sheets. Universal are looking for a song in the style of blah, blah, blah. I just remember at the time it was the most exciting thing and it cost quite a lot to join these things, so my parents helped me out to subscribe to these things and you send these songs off a little bit blind because you don’t know exactly what they want and some of the services actually give you critiques back in a couple of months down the line. They send you back and it either says ‘your song has been forwarded’ to the label or to the artist or whatever or ‘your song wasn’t quite right and here’s why’ and then just rip into your song.
It’s quite off putting really because you’d always get ‘the lyric content is a bit cliché’ and it’s the sort of thing you would hear, you know what I mean? The lyrics aren’t strong enough for whatever and then you listen to popular music at the time and it was always ‘in the club, baby, baby, in the club’ Really? And my lyrics weren’t right? It was a bit of a letdown.
Anyway, one of the listings was for a country artist and obviously I was listening to a lot around that time. ‘Shania’ was huge and ‘Faith Hill’ and that sort of stuff was big and I was loving that at the time and there was a British country artist looking for songs and she’d had a bit of success at the time, again this was a long time ago.
Who was it?
Her name was Lucy Diamond and she did a lot of really good stuff and as it happened I sent some songs in that I had demoed saying ‘I hope these are right for her’ and the feedback was ‘they’re not quite right, they’re not country enough, but who is the vocalist on the track?’ I was ‘that’s just me, I just demoed it at home’ and they replied ‘well we would really like to meet you, do you play any instruments?’ and I said ‘yeah, the tracks you hear are me doing it’. Anyway, I went and met her and the manager and ended up playing session guitar and BV’s (backing vocals) for her for four years maybe? It was a long time.
So, my first experience out of Uni was session work in country music so I got to play with people like Albert Lee because he guested on a lot of her stuff. Delbert McClinton and people like that, slightly like more bluesy but essentially, she was an out and out country artist. She had a really great number of years. Number one UK country, number one country in Europe and it just gave me more of the bug to be honest.
I feel like you got to turn around to say I’m actually 56.
Well I’m pretty old (laughs). I don’t have a problem talking about my age either because I think it’s given me so many experiences. I’ve lived through a lot of stuff that, you know, if I was twenty-three, I wouldn’t have anything to write about probably. I didn’t by the time I was 23, but now I do.
I always had to work. It wasn’t paying my bills. So, I taught drums for about six years and then I worked for a charity in Birmingham, a music charity, community music thing. That was the job I was in when Superstar came about, so they were the ones that gave me the sabbatical. Again, I did that for a number of years always whilst being in a band or writing and releasing stuff.
So I know that feels. I worked for the Co-Op whilst I was touring and playing in a band. I could turn up and say I’m here for three days. Thanks!
Yeah that’s it. I’m off.
That was quite hard to deal with having students. I had a lot of students. I worked for Yamaha as well, so I taught my own students, but I also taught the teachers. So, for a number of years it was really hard to plan gigs. I had to book extensive time off and plan tours that far in advance because of my job and I didn’t think twice about it at the time really, but I couldn’t do it now. You need that sort of stability a little bit more, but country started very young for me and then to come back round to it and to basically discover this scene that I didn’t even know existed. It’s amazing.
I still feel like it’s early days in the scene as well. I think you’ve come full circle and walking into the right moment.
Yeah, it’s funny because I almost feel more in the scene now than I did when I was in the band. This isn’t an arrogant thing at all, but I feel like we entered at a certain level because of finding management so early. I know there was a lot speculation at the time that we’d been put together and stuff. It’s absolute nonsense. I started the band because it’s what I wanted to do and I really believed in the concept of two guys, two girls, modern day Fleetwood Mac kind of idea. That’s always what I wanted to do. Pretty much is still I want to do so, it may happen again. I don’t know. We’ll see. Want to be in a band Matt?
We just need one more (laughs)
We just need one more lady, apply within. With the management support and subsequently the label, I feel like we probably skipped a few steps tp a certain degree, but obviously I’ve done those steps before a lot, so I still feel like I’ve paid my dues and now I’m extremely happy to be doing gigs again for other people and doing different types of venues than we did with the band that we were in. I just feel like we missed that step a little bit, so I’m really glad to be back and making friends and contacts and working with a number of different artists within country and Americana in the U.K. It’s slightly more personable which I really like.
What was your favourite moment?
Ooo it’s getting emotional!
(laughs) What was your favourite moment in 2019?
It was a good one wasn’t it?
Yeah, kind of (laughs). It was a weird one. It was a really weird one because it was just full of change for me. Suddenly I had a child, I mean, not suddenly there was like nine months of ‘I think we are going to have a child’ so he was a joy. He still is. He’s still with us! Musically 2019? It’s been… it was…..Oh! question from the floor.
SARAH (producer) : I’ve got a highlight. One of my highlights was you singing at The British Country Music Festival (@TBCMF).
I love The British Music Country Festival.
That believe it or not is where I was leading to. When I said ‘what was your favourite moment?’ it’s because we’ve had conversations recently.
Yeah, I have said that, yeah I have genuinely said that.
It was such a good time wasn’t it?
I mean 2019, despite not being in the band, I still played festivals that I knew I’d loved previously and again was sort of going back and doing them on different stages with different people and it was amazing to see them from that perspective as well.
So, The British Country Music Festival…it’s always hard with new festivals because you don’t quite know what to expect and many of them, you have a vague idea because you are going to be in a field, there’s going to a portacabin and maybe a tent with some food in it. That’s kind of where you’re at and then when you have a festival that’s a) indoors and b) in the north of England – you kind of go I don’t really know what to expect.
In a ballroom as well?
In a ballroom. Yeah, it’s unbelievable. I remember walking in because I was there for pretty much the whole thing because I was playing there a few times and the sight when you walk into that ballroom was pretty unbelievable. I think Ward Thomas might have been sound checking at the time when I got there and it’s little things like you know the gears good because the sounds great, it looks brilliant, all the lighting was amazing and you have just got that space and that was before venturing out and seeing all the other stages that they had got popped up. I think they should just be ever so proud about what they achieved that weekend because everyone I spoke to was happy.
It was such a good vibe everywhere.
The vibes were amazing.
Everyone in the green room was great. It wasn’t one of those times where everyone was separated because they’re playing at different times
And they don’t want to hang out with anyone. Everyone was just having such a good time.
I think you also felt like you could go on watch other artists and not feel a million miles away from when you’ve got to be back at the side of stage or whatever.
It was all indoors and it felt very close knit and just a lovely sort of family vibe. There were people of all ages there which was amazing. People who could literally just set up camp there and sit there all day and I think that’s what made them such a receptive audience and carrying on from what you were saying about a highlight for me….it really was. It was one of the first gigs The Fatherline ever played.
We had done two supports for Jessica Lynn, one at The Lexington and one at The Hare and Hounds in Birmingham, so they were really like trial and error. We really didn’t know what was going to happen, but they actually went pretty well. We did London and then Birmingham the following night and by the time the Birmingham one came around it was ‘I think we might be on to something’, we’ve almost accidentally got a sound. We didn’t really have much rehearsal time. The thing now is you can record an album remotely. You just send parts to everyone and see what happens.
And of course, all the musicians bring their own sound to it don’t they?
Exactly and it’s actually a reason why I chose the people I chose for that project because I know that they’ve got such an identity and again, like my guitarist… my guitarist, like I own him…..Richard Watson is a phenomenal guitarist but he’s not in the country scene at all, but I know he loves to play with soundscapes and effects so not only is he a great guitarist technically, he just has this amazing ear for atmosphere and that sort of stuff and I think that really suits the music that we are doing.
I have used Rich on a number of projects over the years, essentially session guitar stuff and it just became a time where I just thought ‘I want to do this all the time with Rich’ and then the band went through a few early changes. None of this was public knowledge because no-one knew it was even a thing, but Steve Marks who has ended up playing bass, is a phenomenal guitarist. He plays guitar for Gasoline and Matches and he’s an amazing player.
So initially I was going to have two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer and pedal steel and all that sort of stuff and it just became a nightmare to try and get us all together to rehearse. It was almost impossible because they were predominately all based in the Midlands as well and obviously me being in London pretty much all the time was quite difficult.
Anyway, cut a long story short, we had a rehearsal booked in the Midlands at Ritchie Studio and I was driving up…I had to hire a car because my wife and I share a car and our drummer Elliott texted me just saying ‘my dad’s gone into hospital, I can’t do the rehearsal’ and I replied ‘oh God really sorry man’ and then my second thought was ‘I’ve hired a car and I’m driving all the way up to the Midlands for no reason’. Anyway, I knew we had these couple of gigs coming up so we just thought we will still rehearse. So, it was just myself, Rich and Steve. Sorry, I should say that Steve said ‘well, I’ll play bass then’ and I asked ‘you don’t mind?’ and as I say phenomenal guitarist. And he said ‘no, no, I play bass for other things as well’ and I thought great, so it was just a three piece and just when I thought my leg was going to have a rest from playing a kick drum I was back doing it again. So, we rehearsed as a three piece and we really liked it. It really changed the sound completely and so we’ve done every gig since like that. It’s just been a lot easier. We are technically still a four piece, but we’ve really not had the opportunity to expand on that sound at the moment. I’m not saying it won’t happen. We’ve got tracks recorded now that feature drums and Elliott on kit.
What’s the plan?
That’s a good question. Me being the way I am, my mind just flitters from one thing to the next constantly, so if there’s loads of production work on then that I have to focus on that and I’ve had loads going on which is amazing, particularly towards the last part of the year.
Are they mainly country artists?
Obviously, my connections to country have helped and I think it’s this thing of going back to the root of country and the country scene a little bit is that I’ve been able to talk to all these artists more now. I don’t feel like I’m sheltered from anyone.
I’d try and make myself open to conversations and for people to get in touch with me if they want to and stuff like that. Whereas I don’t think that’s always possible when you’re in a band or whatever. I think through that you chat to people and a lot of people ask ‘do you want to write sometime?’ and I have to go through phases of writing because you can’t just do a year of writing because you will dry up.
Writing is so speculative. No-one is paying you to write a song, it’s a case of let’s hope we write a great song that earns us both some money or gets some traction, so I think I’ve always tried to think I’m going to dedicate this time to writing and then this time to production and then try and tick all the boxes.
I’ve had a number of country writes which have been great. Not just standard country, you get all sorts and all types. Some more Americana than others, some very pop, some more traditional and it’s a great challenge to sort of try and write in all of those styles.
Who have you worked with recently?
So again, over 2019, I’m going to try and reel them off. I’m going to forget people but Jake Morrell obviously, Twinnie, Lisa Wright, Laura Evans, Jess Thristan, Vic Allen, Liv Austin and a chap called Daniel Davidson from Canada who is amazing. He’s got quite a name for himself over there. He’s brilliant. Jeffrey James from Nashville, Logan Brill from Nashville. She’s terrific. There are loads of people.
I’m trying to remember in my head which ones I’ve produced and which ones I’ve written with.
You played a session for Twinnie as well on tour dates, so you literally see more than anyone else because you are right there in the making process of writing music and recording music. You are out there playing it and obviously you are out there as a fan as well. It’s mad.
Yeah. I always want that balance of trying to do everything in as much as if I just do writing and production, I really miss performing so obviously not having the band this last year has meant that I’m obviously more open and willing to do session stuff and play for friends and this, that and the other and that’s been great because it’s been a nice variety.
If you’re only performing do you miss producing and writing?
Yeah. So, I have to have elements of everything or at least know something is coming up, so if there’s a tour or something coming up. I struggle to do one of those things. I need everything. Somehow.
Having reeled off the names you’ve just spent time writing with, producing and basically directing how they play and how they write to a certain degree, what advice would you give those that just want to get to Jake Morrell, Laura Evans, levels of touring, recording, radio play? There are so many musicians and singers and artists and song writers now in the U.K that have seen this British country music scene break. Have seen it thrive. They have seen the community. They want to be part of it. What should everyone be doing to get to where you are essentially?
It’s so hard because it’s changed massively over the years. When I was in my 20’s it was still a case of recording CD’s in a studio, a proper studio, burning off a CD and posting them and sending them to every record label, manager asking ‘please listen to my stuff’ and occasionally you would get a letter back that was obviously a generic thank you, it’s not what we looking for at the moment. I did that throughout so much of my 20’s and it was just rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection.
So that was that and obviously you scoot forward to 2014, 2015 and to find a manager at the drop of hat, literally straight away, was nuts because it was someone who was connected. It was someone who could get us seen by labels. We still earned that deal. It was just a case of we were put in front of the right people, but still had to impress them.
All I would say is I don’t think there is such a thing as an overnight success. We were called that and that didn’t take into consideration the 15 years that had gone before it of being rejected so many times and I think I would say a) when you talk about Laura and Jake and Twinnie – they have some of the best songs going, I believe. Their songs stand out in this genre in this country and I think that is a massive part of it.
Get the best songs you possible can. I know there is a massive thing for co-writing and obviously I do it a lot. I still think there is so much you can do by yourself. Just write, write, write and write again. Constantly.
Do you think artists in the UK are at a disadvantage than if you are writing in Nashville?
I don’t know. I think it’s like anything. I think their scene is obviously so much bigger and that can work either way. It is either more competition or more chances of success.
It is going to take something pretty special for a UK artist to break America, because you are competing with essentially the country and the place that do it. I’m not going to say it best, but certainly that’s what they are known for. I think a lot of people are very focused on trying to break America when I still think they need to break this country, because it’s all about perception.
People seen to be doing very well and touring and doing good support slots. Is that translating into sales of albums and is it actually making those artists any money and on the whole, I would say no, it’s not.
There is a whole audience out there that needs to be tapped into and that’s just this country and I don’t think it is even scratching the surface to be honest.
Doing these tours and gigs and stuff I think is wonderful and I think radio stations need to do more particularly Radio Two. They obviously do an amazing amount already. People like Bob Harris have been such great supporters, but I think on other channels there just needs to be a little more play and a little bit more awareness of what’s going on.
Yeah, exactly I still feel like it’s a bit of a dirty word, country music and it doesn’t need to be. They are just great songs but in all honesty, I get asked a lot ‘can you recommend any good managers’ and this, that and the other.
I was going to ask you that. Do you think it’s important for someone to have a manager?
I think it’s important for someone to have a good manager for sure. It’s a very obvious leap to say ‘Oh well who are such and such managed by’ we should get in touch with them but they have already got the artists that you like already so they are probably not going to want another one.
So it’s trying to find someone, in my opinion, to find someone who is just hungry for it. They might not even have any experience of managing an artist, but someone who believes in you as an artist and is happy to knock down doors. That’s what you need. It may well just be yourself.
And it also doesn’t have to be someone in the country music scene either. I was talking to Luke Roberts with Chase Rice and we were talking about Florida Georgia Line and they are managed by someone who is not even remotely part or have any interest at all in the country music scene but just knows what to do and how to get it. It’s exposure.
Absolutely. A couple of years ago, there was obviously a big craze for all the majors to have a country artist and you know that is just like a toe in the water to just see if this does anything. Sony have signed them, so we should probably get a country artist as well and it just felt like it probably wasn’t been done through a passion of that music, but just more that this might be the next thing.
I know there are people at these labels who have a genuine passion for country music and I think they need to step up and say ‘honestly, this is what you need – let’s look at a few different artists’. The amount these guys gig and tour now is unbelievable. You are never not going to be able to go out and see some of these artists play and I find that side of the industry has maybe died a little bit where it’s not a case of going to gigs and seeing new artists anymore. I think that is shame.
There is definitely a point where people weren’t going to gigs because they could watch it on telly or download it or whatever but I quite often liken the country scene to my history with the punk scene, because I was fortunate to be playing when people were going because it was a punk gig. That is what we are seeing now here in the UK. If there is a show on and there is sometimes two or three shows a week, it’s crazy.
It’s huge. There is so much around.
I just saw the line-up for Party on the Clyde in Scotland?
Yeah. That’s the same people as Buckle and Boots.
It’s mad. You can see even by the addition of all these new festivals that going are going on. There’s definitely a fan base for it and when it was just C2C, that was just March catered for and even then, all the American artists were over and they carry on touring then in March off the back of it. People will go and see them at C2C and go and see them the following week. They need to be catered for all year round because I think they will go to shows.
So, winding down. What do you find personally the hardest thing in what you do? Because we see all the moments, we see The British Country Music Festival (@TBCMF), we see the producing, we see you at Long Road, we see all the putting out of singles and stuff, we see the social media. What do you find hard as an artist?
This is just a personal thing, but I find social media stuff really difficult.
That’s what I thought you might say.
I used to love it, particularly Twitter at the time when it first came out. It was a big thing. I find it really difficult. I’ve always cared about what people think, which is a really dangerous thing. I hate seeing the negativity.
I try and be positive in all of my posts and I try not to go on there and preach and spout about stuff. I try and always make light of everything and that is just because that is what I want to see more of.
Ideally, I would love to be at a point where I just didn’t have to rely on it, but I can’t see any other way around it at the moment.
Obviously, especially having a son now as well, I am petrified for his future with social media. I am just so glad it wasn’t around when I was a kid. I wouldn’t have wanted that in school.
Too many opinions and I think it is quite a toxic place and I think a lot of musicians and loads of people I know really struggle with their minds and I think social media is one of the most biggest impacting issues with peoples minds and comparing themselves to everyone around them. I know a lot of people who compare themselves to everyone in their lane or who they deem to be in their lane and they are so focused on that that they are not moving forward themselves, because they are always looking sideways and I think that is a real shame.
That’s probably the thing I find the hardest. The social media stuff and yet it’s really good for other stuff, so it’s a tricky one. I think you have to take the rough with the smooth, but I think the rough can be very damaging for sure.
What can we expect more from Tim Prottey-Jones in 2020?
We have got a load of production stuff that still hasn’t seen the light of day so the stuff I was doing last year still hasn’t been released. I have just been working with an artist from LA called Erin Bowman who is wonderful. I have been doing her whole album, so that has been my biggest project for the last half of 2019 and it’s really reminded me of an amazing time in music when Alanis Morrisette was the biggest thing around. That’s the first bit of the year sorted.
Obviously playing for people like Jake which is amazing, doing a bit of writing for people like The Condors so there will be more of that. Fatherline, we are already confirmed for Buckle and Boots, so there will probably be some other festivals with them. We are going to go back to almost starting again with that, whereas the songs all came from me and I got the guys to add stuff – I am actually going into the studio with Rich and hopefully Steve as well and not rework the songs, but start from scratch on them again because we ended up recording stuff and then playing them live took them in a slightly different direction and a direction we actually preferred. There will be more of that, for sure.
I think there will be some other opportunities from a live perspective, more performance stuff. There is a show that is in the works which I can’t say too much about it, at the moment which will be a touring show. I have just been away and done some recording for that and there are some really great people involved. Most of them in the country scene as well. So, look out for that.
I saw that on social media.
You only saw what we wanted you to see (laughs), so that will be quite exciting. There is a prospect of another project, band kind of thing on the go which I am writing for now but I’m not going to rush this one. Again, saying what we were saying about the quality of songs of Jake and Twinnie. I want the songs to be that level and beyond if that’s possible before anything is done.
It is just really nice to be in a position now where I know who I work really well with. So, where I often just hide away and write for myself, I think there is a few key people that I really trust with my music now which is nice.
There will be more collaborative stuff and trying to get the best stuff possible out there, I think. Yeah, that will all be coming this year for sure.
And then there’s our band? We have just formed a band.
We’ve just formed one which is very good (laughs). What shall we be called?
What shall we be called? ‘Two beards and a blond’? (laughs)
‘Two beards and a blossom?’.
Nice. Let’s do it!
Thanks for listening to this episode of No Chords but the Truth in Association with The British Country Music Festival (@TBCMF).
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Matt Spracklen is a radio and television presenter as well as a reputable music blogger. Matt currently hosts his own show on Bauer Media’s Country Hits Radio and having studied music in Nashville, he is seen as one of the UK’s leading authorities on all things country and Americana. He is known for championing British artists and continues to provide a platform on his radio show not just for headliners, but also emerging talent. He was a judge on BBC One’s All Together Now, he is the main presenter for the main stage at The British Country Music Festival and is in demand as a host for corporate events and music awards shows. Matt is an avid blogger and social media guru and has a considerable social media following, ensuring he is on most PR companies VIP lists for key music industry events. @mattspracklen
Sarah Bishop is a well respected radio producer who has worked with names including Edith Bowman and Arielle Free. She is currently the producer of The Frank Skinner Show on Absolute Radio as well as The Times’ podcast Walking the Dog. Sarah also works closely with high profile talent on television programmes such as the award-winning sitcom Catastrophe and award shows including The BAFTAs, The Brit Awards and MTV’s Europe Music Awards. @sarahbishop92
The British Country Music Festival We are delighted to bring you No Chords But The Truth and we would like to thank all the talented artists who will be contributing to the show. When we first discussed the podcast with Matt and Sarah, it was clear that we all shared the same passion to provide a voice and platform for UK home grown country & Americana artists and songwriters. Please follow, subscribe, review, comment, fill in those little stars and join our community. Thanks for listening. Martin & Marina @TBCMF #NCBT
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