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Lockdown Live: How Newbury's Joe Hicks smashed YouTube gig

Interview with singer songwriter after Arlington's first online music session

Trish Lee

trish lee

trish.lee@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886663

Joe Hicks

Joe Hicks

‘Yay Joe!!! So good to hear you live’
Bianca Blohm, comments on YouTube, Joe Hicks Lockdown Live, curated by Arlington Arts, on Friday, April 3

Since his first single release in 2017, 29-year-old Joe Hicks has racked up more than a million digital streams, was BBC Introducing Artist of the Week, has toured this country and Europe and had a slot supporting BRIT award winner Sam Fender. After kicking off Arlington Arts’ first Lockdown Live session on YouTube he spoke to arts editor TRISH LEE

CONGRATULATIONS on your Lockdown Live show Joe, we really enjoyed the session – how was it, performing to an ‘unknown’ audience out there?

Thank you very much for tuning in! Really glad you enjoyed it. Yeh, I had a great time...
Arlington Arts reached out to me as I played in their venue at the end of last year and said they were really keen to continue to put on and support live music during this lockdown, so it was a real honour to be asked to be part of their first Lockdown Live.

I’ve done a number of live streams to my own audience before, so was used to the somewhat weird scenario of singing my songs to a phone screen in an empty room. This time it was made extra special by getting the chance to play my music to the much larger loyal Arlington following – and also to a load of people who came through from your Newburytoday article, so thank you very much for that Trish! A great opportunity and a lot of fun to be involved.

How was the feedback?

Like I said, the audience was much bigger than I normally get, with a lot of new faces, and I had a lot of comments from them on the live stream and then people ‘liking’ my pages and checking out my music afterwards, which was great. Anything that helps to get my music out to more people is always great to do and this was a particular success on that front. However, it’s hard not to look at the comments coming in when you’re singing to the phone screen, definitely missed a lyric or two...

Will you do another live session?

Yes, for sure. I tend to live stream every couple of weeks, normally to check in with my followers, play a few songs and chat. This coronavirus lockdown is definitely leading to that happening more frequently as I can’t get out and play the gigs I had booked, so I am keen to keep playing for people in whatever way is possible.
A number of people said they enjoyed the Arlington stream, but that three songs was too short, so I’ll definitely be looking to play a longer set on my next attempt.

How would you describe your music to those who haven’t yet heard it?

My sound is kind of a blend of all my influences. I’m drawn to artists like Paul Simon, Sting and John Mayer, who write timeless songs while always keeping a lot of interest in the chord progressions and instrumentation. I suppose you could say my music is guitar driven, blues and folk-tinged pop music.
How did you start along your music career? Do you come from a musical tradition – your parents are in PR aren’t they?

Yes, my parents used to run a marketing and design company in Newbury. Years before that they ran a fancy dress shop and my mum remembers you running an arts venue down by the Salvation Army yourself Trish! [Ed: Thanks, that gives my age away.] We used to go to a lot of folk sessions in pubs when I was younger and my dad plays a few instruments, including melodeon (not professionally), so that’s really my first memory of being exposed to music. I remember being blown away by all these people turning up with random instruments and just knowing song after song off the top of their heads.
My start in anything more serious with music was in a few bands when I was a teenager, getting to release music and tour around the country in a van. At the same time I also started playing in a lot of pubs and clubs in London which didn’t exactly help my A-level studies…

What instruments do you play? Are you self taught?

I try and pretend I can play a bit of piano and drums, but in reality I’m awful. I really just sing and play guitar.
I had classical guitar lessons from about nine years old and ended up studying at The Royal Academy of Music in London during my A-levels. Once I got into popular music at about 13 I started to get interested in the electric guitar and just taught myself that kind of playing so I could be in bands at school.

It wasn’t until I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, US, for a year in 2013 that I got any help with the contemporary side of things.

Do you prefer writing songs or performing them?

I love recording my finished songs once they are written, but the writing part is often a slog. With the exception of a few songs that have come to me very quickly, a lot of the writing process is just showing up every day and grinding it out until I have something I like. So I’d take performing and recording over the writing part if I had to choose, but writing can be extremely rewarding at times and is necessary to have something to sing on stage, haha.

How does it feel when you try out one of your songs in public for the first time? Are you nervous? How do you know a song is ready to be heard?

I normally know a song is ready as by the time it gets to the stage I’ve probably played it 100 times to myself, my producer and close friends, demoed it and possibly fully recorded and released it. None of that can prepare you for how a song feels in a room with an audience though, so that’s where the nerves come in the first few times. It takes a little while to settle in to playing a new song live and also work out what kind of mood it creates in a room. It’s an interesting, if not scary, experiment each time for sure.

Tell me about your songwriting process – how easy do you find it?

My process almost always starts on the guitar. Once I find a chord progression or guitar part that I find interesting enough I’ll start to put a melody over the top using gibberish lyrics, and that tends to lead to me fleshing out the full structure of the idea, music and melody. The tough bit for me is normally getting lyrics that I’m happy with, but that normally comes from noting down the gibberish I’ve been singing and latching on to a word in that and building out from there. It’s amazing how much your subconscious often helps to tell you what a song is about before you know yourself.

What have been your best gigs and where and with who would you love to play?

My most exciting gigs to date have probably been when I went out to Germany and Spain last year to do a few shows. It felt amazing to get to play my songs in a different country and the crowds were all extremely welcoming! My favourite venue to play so far has been The Brook in Southampton, it’s an absolutely stunning room and well worth a trip. My ultimate dream would be to play at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado with one of my idols like Sting. So what’s next? Where do you want to be this time next year – presuming this lockdown is lifted!

I’m in the midst of writing at the moment, so hopefully by then I’ll have a new record out and will be gearing up for a festival season unaffected by global pandemic…

Joe’s next scheduled concert in Newbury is a triple headline show at Ace Space on July 17, alongside Roz Firth and Ma Polaine’s Great Decline. More information at: http://www.acespace.org.uk/events/firth-hicks-ma-p/


To hear Joe’s music, visit www.joehicksmusic.com/

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