📷 : Sam Nahirny
With his individual style, singer-songwriter ROB.GREEN released his self-titled EP in 2016 along with a music video featuring actor Joe Dempsie to go with his track Blue. Recently finishing a support tour with blues artist Eric Bibb, he has since been invited to perform on tour with Earth, Wind & Fire and is scheduled to appear at BST Hyde Park on Friday 13th July alongside Michael Bublé and Van Morrison. After his set at the Eric Bibb show in Brighton, we chat with Rob about his songwriting, performing at BBC Proms and playing at this year’s BST festival.
How did you get into music, and have you always performed the same style?
I was about five years old, my mum had a tape of Aretha Franklin’s Greatest Hits, I used to just listen to it over and over. The first song I actually learnt how to sing was You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman hahaha, which is not a story I tell everyone, and pretty much from there I’ve always been singing haha! The second song I learned how to sing was I Believe I Can Fly, it was in a film called Space Jam, a really good kids film which had Michael Jordan in it, I really liked it and learned it from that. I then got into an artist called India Arie who is an Acoustic Soul artist, she’s all about lyrics and a lot of her stuff is sort of meditative, it’s almost borderline poetry that she’s singing, that was sort of a slipstream for me into what ended up becoming my style. My best friend Richard at school bought me a chord book for James Morrison’s Undiscovered album, I used to play that, learn where to put my fingers and stuff and then I went to ultimateguitar.com and basically taught myself the guitar off the internet. I started taking the poems I was writing and putting them into the music, I think one of the final things that got added that made my style was, I taught myself the loop pedal two years ago in order to do my EP, so now that’s me I guess, playing the loop pedal, doing sort of poetry sing-y stuff. My grandma was a gospel singer so a lot of the harmony and things that I like about vocal came from that background, so I like to think I’m a nice mix of lots of things hahahaha!
How did you get involved with Give a Home for Amnesty International?
Give A Home I did with Jake Bugg in September, it was fantastic, I heard about Give A Home through somebody that we knew at Sofar Sounds, they put on the event in Nottingham. I’d done a number of Sofar Sounds before this one, they said “we’re going to do an extra special one for Amnesty International it’s called Give A Home” it’s sort of a big experiment for them as Sofar do really intimate gigs in smaller rooms and living rooms, we actually did it in the Nottingham County entertainment box which was really strange haha. It’s something that I care a lot about in terms of what Amnesty International are doing and also specifically the Give A Home campaign, it seemed like something that was incredibly ambitious and I think, especially with some of the problems that a lot of people who are homeless around the world are facing, is that there’s help but there’s not enough, sometimes it takes a really big sweep, a really big motion. Loads of charities exist around homelessness but I think the awareness is not at the same level as the amount of charities, and I actually think if the awareness was higher we wouldn’t need as many charities, we could just do big things with bigger groups. I was on board the second I heard about what they were doing and it turned out to be an amazing gig, they raised so much money and some incredible artists were involved in it, it just shows you that everyone is connected to this challenge, in this problem, and it’s a worldwide thing and it’s really not as hard as people make it sound to actually support that cause and get involved with helping, that was just an evening of my time. We’re doing an event at the end of the year with Notts County, they have a charity called Notts County Football in the community, they don’t just do football, I’m mainly involved in their charity with something that they do for men’s mental health, I’ve gone through a process with my own mental health, I have lots of male friends and family members that have done the same thing, that is another cause that I’m working quite closely with, the album that I’m writing has a lot of these issues in it, so it just seemed like a good fit.
Can you tell us about Sheep Soup?
Sheep Soup is a naturalistic theatre company, they specialise in doing shows and drama where the action seems natural, like conversational, almost dialogue. I got brought on board with a naturalistic musical called Mrs Green, no relation to me or Mrs Green! They write musicals that talk about traditionally socially taboo subjects and bring some awareness to them with comedy. Mrs Green was about a retired lady who lived in Basford in Nottingham, in a council estate flat, she grew cannabis to medicate her arthritis, a lot of people from the local community come round and the back story is, she used to be a backing singer in Motown and she’s got loads of musical experiences and hits that she’s written on and she’s been disenfranchised, people from her past and people from her present all meet in this council flat on the day she’s being evicted for having cannabis, even though it’s something that’s medicating her.
That musical was a real leap frog for me, we then started doing the most recent musical which was called The Leftovers which was a musical that explored grief and the grieving process. A group of five people who have a mutual friend who passes away, get together and try at first to create a charity single and realise that a charity single is too pastiche and too cheesy and it’s not working, so they end up making an album and they all express their thoughts, each one of them represents a different stage of grief. Sheep Soup are wicked, they’re a joy to work with, the next musical they’re doing, I think I’m allowed to say, is about hoarding, I think I’m going to be involved in that, but it depends if I have time but it’s been great!
How has the Eric Bibb tour gone?
Amazingly, I met Eric last year when I was supporting him in the Netherlands and it was just him and another guitarist, I had no idea what to expect. I heard Eric’s music and maybe it’s a bit stereotypical but you hear of these musicians and you’re kind of like, ah ok this person’s going to be really dark, deep and mysterious, and actually Eric’s just very warm and very open, a really nice guy. I feel like I have been learning from him as a musician pretty much every date that we’ve done, I try and catch most of his set, if not all, every time, the band are amazing, but I think for me it has been a real lesson, a real masterclass in performance. His music covers such a wide range of topics and he doesn’t compromise on lyrical content for melody, he has wicked melodies and he has wicked lyrical content and he just sits there and delivers it and he has everybody right here, he doesn’t even have to try. I think I’ve really learned a lot and it’s been a joy and to be honest I wasn’t sure how my music or my set was going to sit with Eric’s because I know we’re quite different in style, Eric was the one who was saying to me, you’ll be fine, everyone will love you. I was a bit nervous and every day, genuinely even today even though it’s like the twelfth date, I go on and I’m a bit oh gosh, I hope everyone likes it! Every show has been absolutely fine, I think it’s because his audience are a listening audience, they listen to every lyric and they really give you their full attention, you can feel the goodwill, everyone’s interested and reactive, the amount of times you do with an audience like ‘SING!’ and then nothing happens, that’s never happened, they’re all singers, and the thing is I realise when I watch Eric’s set how much they would sing because they know all of his songs, and they sing all the harmonies and stuff.
How are you finding your first visit to Brighton?
Brighton’s lovely everyone’s so nice, the limited amount of Brighton that I’ve seen seems lovely architecture, I’m a bit of an architectural obsessive! The people are lovely judging solely on this audience, but getting here was an experience and I don’t think I ever want to see the M25 ever again, but I’m probably going to have to if I want to come back! It’s been a gorgeous day as well so it’s been a nice drive, but I guess I would say overall really nice, everyone’s lovely hahahaha!
Are you looking forward to performing at BST Hyde Park alongside Michael Bublé and Van Morrison?
I’m really looking forward to it, in fact I’ve tried not to think about it too much at this stage because I know I’ll get really nervous. I’m really excited, it was a real surprise when we got booked for that show but I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing so far which is just throwing myself into it 100% and just hoping that it pays off hahaha! I’m really excited! I’m one of those people, the first song is like a heart attack and then after that I relax, so I’m sure the final five songs of the six songs that I’m doing I’m going to really enjoy.
📷 : Sam Nahirny
Whose performances are you hoping to watch whilst there?
I want to see Van Morrison big time, I actually really want to see Bananarama, all my friends were a bit too cool for Bananarama but I was like, I really want to see them. Obviously I want to see Michael Bublé. I’m going to be there from 4pm, my sister is graduating in Liverpool in the morning so I’m going to her graduation and then I’m getting the train down to London, so when I’m at the festival, I’ll stay there all day. I get to go to a festival and perform at a festival at the same time which will be great.
Will this be your first time attending either as an artist or watching?
To BST yeah first time there, I’ve never actually been to a festival in London, mainly because London scares me a little bit hahaha! I’m really excited, can’t wait.
Where else can people see you this summer?
I’m performing at BST, I’m also performing at Nottingham Pride and Carfest. While we’ve been doing this tour, we’ve been running a competition where people can win a gig in their living room, kind of like Sofar session, which we will livestream on Facebook. We had over 200 entries from this tour which is insane, we picked three winners, we had a winner in Bristol, Milton Keynes and Newcastle. I’ll be going to their houses and doing these “Rob Green rooms” over the next few months and people can tune in and watch that on Facebook.
How was it hearing Belief played on BBC Radio?
When we found out that Belief was going to get played on Tom Robinson’s show I was over the moon, I love Tom Robinson’s show, we were at a festival, South West 7s, which is in Bristol when we got the call. That was amazing, then he recommended it for Radio 1, it got played and Dean Jackson who’s the Nottingham BBC Introducing representative, Dean is one of the first people who got on board with BBC Introducing, he pushed it to Huw Stephens’ show, and that’s when it got played on Radio 1. My manager Greg came round to mine and we were just like, oh my god I can’t believe it’s going to get played on Radio 1! When he said “Rob Green” we just went crazy, I think that video is on Instagram still. We were just really excited, I’ve been working as a solo musician since 2012 and since this EP, which was 2016, things have just changed in a very big way, I’m doing things that I really didn’t think that I would do. It’s nice to be challenged and I’m just trying to enjoy everything as much as I can.
Where does the inspiration come from for your songwriting?
Most of the time it comes from personal experience, if it doesn’t come from personal experience it comes from experiences that happen very close in my proximity. There’s a quote by Nina Simone where she says that, your job as an artist is to reflect the times and if you’re not reflecting the times what are you doing really, and that quote kind of stuck with me. I think that a lot of what you go through personally you very easily attribute it to a solo experience, you say no one else has possibly been through this, I’m alone and it’s just me. When I write from a place where I feel the most alone they’re the songs that connect the most, so I’m trying to do more of that which is harder to do, but is ultimately the only music really worth writing.
Can you tell us about performing at BBC Proms?
Hahahaha kind of, it’s a bit of a blur hahaha! BBC Proms was an example of one of those things that I really didn’t expect to do until I was much more advanced in my years on this planet. I really like the BBC Proms, one of the first ever concerts I saw on television was the BBC Proms when I was very young. I remember my uncle joking when we watched it at my grandad’s house, he was like, “ooh you’ll be on there one day”. I remember distinctly there was a moment halfway through singing Orange Coloured Sky, my brain went, gosh uncle Tyson you’re psychic hahahahahaha! It was incredible, I have to thank Clare Teal, my other manager Heather sent her my music. I performed in a festival tent at a Wedding and Clare was there as a guest, she told me she really liked my set and really liked what I did. I was performing in the ceremony as well when the bride was walking down the aisle, the bride left her veil at home so someone had to go and get it, I had to improvise a whole set for thirty minutes, just a capella in the venue. Clare saw that and she brought me onto Radio 2, she interviewed me on her show and I remember then sitting in the chair opposite her with Greg my other manager, who’s been with me since day one, since 2012, we frequently, more so over these past few years than ever before, we have moments where we just look at each other and we’re like this is our actual life. When we were at the Proms just as I was about to go on stage Greg was just there, I gave him a little what’s up, I think inside we were just really excited, it’s nice to be able to share those moments with somebody. As a soloist you don’t always have somebody who is on your wavelength, who gets how far you’ve come. BBC Proms was amazing.
📷 : Sam Nahirny
Where did you film your music video for Blue and how did Joe Dempsie get involved?
I used to be an actor, when I was seven years old I joined Nottingham Television Workshop which trains people to act for television. I met Joe there when I was quite young, Joe actually ended up being in Skins, his first big acting job as a result of an audition that happened at Nottingham TV Workshop. I kind of stepped away from acting to focus more on music, but I have lots of actor friends as a result of that who are in loads of different shows and films, big budget, little budget, Netflix, everything. Joe and me have always been quite tight, he was in my first ever music video which was called Cardinal, he is a fan of my music, he’s very supportive of my music, I’m a fan of him, I think he’s a great actor. Blue was shot in my house, it was shot on the ground floor of my terraced house in Derby, I spoke to my friend Matt and I really wanted it to be a continuous shot, he specialised in doing continuous shot films, Lace Market Media is the company.
I literally wrote it two weeks before we needed to shoot it, originally I wasn’t going to be in it, I was going to cast two guys. The director Matt said, ‘why don’t you be in it’, I thought that was a bit cringe I wasn’t sure, he then said, ‘if we get an actor that you know and are familiar with, will you do it?’ and I was like ‘yeah okay maybe’. We brainstormed about different actors and Joe’s name pretty much came up straight away, I feel comfortable around Joe, I know him quite well but he was shooting Game of Thrones at the time, I was not sure if he would be free. I called him and he dropped everything, he was actually shooting the current season at the time but he was in a contract where he couldn’t tell us that. We shot it in a day, we did it in 43 takes, if you’ve seen the video then you’ve seen how many things actually change in it. We pretty much gut the entire house and it is a real continuous shot, there’s no cheats, so that’s why it took so long. Basically my house gets transformed from being a house with all the furnishings to being a house that’s been packed up for moving, everything comes off the walls, all the things change, I still watch it back and I’m going, oh yeah god that had to move and that had to go, and that thing had to be covered with a dust sheet, and the coffee machine had to be taken down, and all the cups had to go. Joe actually changed his costume three times in the video, the clock changes throughout the scenes, there’s so many things that happen in that video that most probably wouldn’t catch, we wanted that sense of detail transformation. Joe was amazing and he taught me a lot because I’d not acted for such a long time and he kind of put me at ease.
What have you enjoyed the most about your music career so far?
Hahahaha, what have I enjoyed the most, maybe 2018 the most, 2017 was quite a hard year for me, great things happened but there were a lot of things happening alongside that which were quite challenging, whereas 2018 I feel emotionally and spiritually has been very fulfilling. I’ve done more things this year than I ever expected to do, I didn’t expect to start writing an album at this stage, I thought I was going to do another EP, it was one of those things where you sit down and you start writing and then you’re like, oh my god I didn’t realise I had so much to say, hahaha crazy! So I think this year has been amazing, but it’s hard to pick, it’s a bit of a cop out picking a whole year but I think it’s more how I feel at this moment in time, it’s a great feeling and it’s something I’m trying to hold on to and just enjoy it.
What plans do you have for releasing music?
I’m writing my first album at the moment, I’m working with some people who I really respect, some people that I’m only meeting for the first time this year but have worked on projects and albums that I love and have loved from a young age. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with people who have been in the industry for a while and know what it’s like to be an artist recording your first album, the fear and the protectiveness, I’m just trying to take my time, I enjoy it and enjoy the process. I’ve always been a performing artist, I’ve not really recorded very often, so the studio’s a bit of a scary place for me but I’m trying to relax and enjoy it which is a challenge, but when you’re surrounded by people who are experienced it’s a lot less daunting.
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