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Lee Griffiths
Shadders interview
Edited version of original article for Shaddersoline
by COLIN NEWELL, used by kind permission.
Click here
for full length version

Some seven years ago we were trying to blagg a James gig on their greatest hits tour, we ended up by being told there were no spare tickets available for the likes of us lowly fanzine writers as they had bigger fishes to fry. However, as a consolation there was a brand new ZTT Records act playing our town a few days later, a single would be sent to us along with a couple of guest lists for the gig.  The single duly arrived (along with the James album) we picked up the press release; some lad from Manchester blah, sings about real life blah, we popped it into the cd player, my God this lad can really sing. 

Our names were indeed on the door at Doncaster's infamous toilet circuit venue, The Leopard, unfortunately we had no idea what he looks like!  It's not exactly packed by the venue's knack of not actually advertising gigs!  There's a group of musicians with some obvious record company types and some dodgy looking manc geezer stood in a corner, we have a chat with the ZTT types, they know who we are and gather our thoughts on the single.  The next thing we're surprised to see the dodgy manc bloke on stage and then he only starts singing, my god what a voice, he looks like a scally but has the voice of an angel! 

He plays a sensational set, the songs are as memorable as the voice.  He's there with just an acoustic guitar with a couple of musicians for company on stage, it should be classed as folk but he defo don't look or sound like a cardigan wearing folk muso, but it's hardly rock in the true sense of the word either.  Anyway, we're not here to pigeon hole people and the songs definitely aren't no soapy folk nonsense this is real life, school of hard knocks, not in some patronising ivory tower way but somebody writing and singing as he's seen it. 

Over the next few years we catch up with Griffo touring and building up fans with the likes of Eddie Reader and more favourably Manc survivor Clint Boon.  Each time he improves, confidence never a problem for Lee but as the gigs roll by the songs sound better and better, more rounded and ready for that debut album.  Then something strange happened ZTT Records got world famous producer Trevor Horn to twiddle the knobs on the album and he makes a truly awful job of it!  Lee sings about real life shit, bollocks stuff that just happens but Horn decides to try and make it sound like a Guardian readers coffee table album, to say he missed the point is the fucking understatement of the century!  It also seemed that ZTT had lost the plot; by the time 'Northern Songs' finally came out it had been much delayed and even had suffered a name change!  The release was too low key, minimal advertising, no tour, ZTT had missed a real opportunity. 

First things first about 'Northern Songs' it sounds really overproduced, Horn tried to suck the soul out of it, first listen it sounds like he succeeded but give it a good few listens, get past the production and listen to the songs.  Once you get to the songs, take in the lyrics and once you do this you'll realise that this is a collection of truly great songs.  The album is self penned bar one select cover, the sublime 'Sweet Baby James' by James Taylor., a great song that deserves a great version and that's what Lee does, it'll make the hair on the back of your head stand on end! 

Of Lee's own tracks to be fair there isn't a duff track on 'Northern Songs' but there's two that really stand out for us.  'The One About The Smackhead' is the soundtrack to the haunting downside to modern living but the track beating that is 'Astronaut', it's a showcase of Lee's true songwriting genius and anyone wanting to know the measure of the man should listen to this track.  He's a product of his surroundings yes but also as much a product of some rather fine influences from the aforementioned James Taylor and everyone's fav Scouser John Lennon. 

So Lee has the voice, the material and the songwriting talent so why isn't he at number one right now?  Fuck knows is the answer.  Since the ZTT debacle Lee hasn't been sitting back and licking his wounds, he's got a second album written and recorded with a producer of his choice, a man he can trust.  Unfortunately due to the usual legal wrangles that seem to kill the dreams of many a talented musician it's not in the shops yet but Lee doesn't lie down so it's just a matter of time.  In the meantime go to his website and you can download the album in full under the banner of 'Fuck the record company' plus there's a few bonus tracks on there too, treat yourself to them you'll kick yourself if you don't!

To the uninformed, who is Lee Griffiths?
Lee Griffiths is a shit-kicker from Moston, Manchester who is blessed with the ability to sing like someone who looks/acts like him shouldn't be able to.  Or so he is constantly told every time the uninitiated hear him for the first time. At first it used to wind him up but now he finds it a back-handed compliment.

So how's life treating you at the moment?
Well I wouldn't say it is treating me at all, its just sort of sustaining me, but yeah, I feel like the fog has lifted a little. It's about time too as I haven't been able to see much for a while now, due to one thing or another. But as they say everything happens for a reason and  I emerge a much wiser, stronger and overall better rounded person for the experience.

You've already put out an album 'Northern Songs' on ZTT Records, what's that like and what did you learn from the experience?
Enough time has passed now for me to view it in a more objective light, but the whole experience initially was magical: there were truly joyous moments. When you have been working for something as long as I did (with the almost obsessive dedication that I had) then to actually realise that dream can only be described as magical.  Having one of the most recognised producers in the world wanting to produce your record is a wonderful accolade. After working in a vacuum for so long, it's a strong indication that you were right and your self-belief has paid off.  It will always be a fond and special time: to go from Moston with no money to an  LA Bel-Air mansion is a very surreal experience.

Listening back to 'Northern Songs', how much do you like the songs and do you have any favourites?
I couldn't listen to 'Northern Songs' for a long time and certainly couldn't listen to it objectively because all I could hear was the production and Trevor. But listening back now I like the songs I produced myself i.e. 'It's A Shame', 'Astronaut', 'The Train Song' and 'Running Round', because they are mainly acoustic and they are live takes and therefore couldn't be "Trevored". They kept a little of their honesty. 

You didn't leave ZTT Records on good terms. What went wrong?
Shit-slinging doesn't do it for me at all, but yeah, I didn't leave on the best of terms.  I still talk to Trevor and Jill and stuff, but I was naive, made a lot of stupid decisions and was manipulated into agreeing to a lot of shit that I shouldn't have done. But that's life and it's all too easy to say I should have done this and done that, but I've put it in a box now and it's done.

Since leaving ZTT Records you've had a few songs released on compilation CDs - what are these and how can fans get hold of a copy?
I've done a compilation for Blue Cat Records, and a track of mine called 'Hippy Dippy' was used on a compilation for Acid Jazz Records called 'The New Testament Of Folk' and it was a good album as well. 

Have you ever come close to jacking it all in and getting a proper job?
Before I signed to ZTT I worked to subsidise my music. Music isn't a choice thing, its something I do anyway.  It is my therapy, my friend, my confidant, my means of coming down - it's everything to me - and the only thing that I'm good at. I'm just doing something I enjoy and the fact that other people get something out of it never fails to humble and flatter me.

In previous interviews a lot has been said about your past and upbringing, how does this filter its way into your song writing?
It's inevitable that any life experiences are gonna affect anything I write because as I've said it is honest.  Any stimuli whether it be visual, emotional, anything can affect you and give you material.  The first album was very self-confessional and too personal in some areas.  Since that album I have broadened the scope of things that I write about, so songs written post "Northern Songs" aren't all necessarily about me, but I had had different life experiences, as we all do when growing up, so it changes all the time.

What's all this about the Gobshites Group?
The Gobshites is my web group and it's for fans.  I let them know about stuff about gigs and have discussions about things - just a point of contact between me and people who like what I do - and I like that because I am humbled by the fact that people like what I do and I like to let them know that I appreciate their support.

Have you a big hero  who made you wanna pick up a guitar and sing?
The Beatles taught me to play, John Martin taught me how to sing and James Taylor inspired me to write self-reflective songs and not be embarrassed or self-conscious.

You've got a new album recorded, what's it going to be called and what's it going to sound like?
I recorded it with Ian Grimble at 2KHZ studios and  I am knocking a few names around.  My favourite is 'Armchair Anarchy', it was recorded really quickly in order to keep the freshness and not get too involved in the production side of things, and it sounds excellent.

What did Ian Grimble add to the recording and how did it differ from working with Trevor Horn)?
It differed in a million ways because we recorded the whole thing in 3 weeks, that's 16 tracks, and they were recorded as a band played live in the studio, where we were looking at each other, which is so, so important.   Ian was the complete opposite to Trevor in that he went for the right take rather than trying to create it with pro-tools (computer software).

I hear you've got your own studio.  Does this make writing and recording easier?
Absolutely!  Several tracks were recorded in my home studio where I knew we would never be able to recreate that again in the vastness of Sarm-West, so I insisted that we used that recording.

What do you think of  X Factor / Pop Idol style television?
I could go on a rant about it but it's pointless. When you turn an emotive art form into MacDonalds and dumb music down to such a degree that it's no longer emotive or an art form, then what is it???   Singing karaoke fucking songs on TV, making fuck-off loads of money from people's dreams is a fucking disgrace. Filming them as they are ridiculed and ripped apart by ego-tripping "expert" bastards who don't know fuck all about music or talent makes me ill.

Not only does it make a mockery of the whole "music industry" but it patronises the working-class people by saying "look what you could have", like dangling a carrot in front of them, filling their heads with bullshit about £1 million record deals and 'jet-set' lifestyles, making them believe that the life they have is a bag of shite. 

There were only two ways to climb out of the working-class environment - music and football, but both of these things have been robbed by the middle classes and big business.  Can anyone from a working-class background really take their two kids to go and see Man U (or whoever they support) play on a Saturday anymore?  No fucking way man, it's just too expensive.

If you had to pigeonhole yourself, would you fancy folk, rock, acoustic, pop or would you like to make a genre up for yourself?
Acoustic-funk, or something around there, but I hate pigeonholing myself.  I played a few gigs with Damien Rice and was talking about this with him.  He said that he hates the term "folk" because people form an idea of what you do and it's hard to explain it.

You are one of the most compelling live artists I've ever seen. How do you deal with ignorant punters who fail to shut their gobs when you are singing?
I treat them with the contempt they deserve.  It always has and always will fuck me off when people come to a live acoustic gig and stand there and talk.  It breaks a spell, it fucks the magic and I won't have it.  I make sure they won't forget me in a hurry.

Edited version of an original article on the Shaddersonline website
Written by Colin Newell and used by kind permission.
Click here for full length version

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