It’s a lovely sunny Friday in March. We have a rare day off work, and are sitting on the top floor of a gallery in Victoria, watching the world go by and being serenaded by Robbie Boyd. As always, Robbie is nice and chipper, the sunny disposition of his music evidently having its roots in the personality of its creator, despite a hectic schedule of gigs and promotion. This is especially the case in the build up to his appearance on April 17th at The Beck Theatre (Hayes) for the regional final of Live & Unsigned. This an annual competition whittles down 10,000 artists from across the country, culminating in the final at the O2 Indigo, that sees the winners awarded prizes worth £100,000 in record contracts, promotion, and festival slots – a pretty handy prize to help those musical ambitions be achieved.
Not that Robbie is relying on any leg ups from the industry. A relentless performer, he can often be found strumming away in Portobello Market, Spitalfields, or King’s Cross. You’ll be able to spot him – that crowd of people gathering around a sound of warm days and cool nights – he’s in there. ‘I don’t think of myself as a street performer. For me it’s all about trying out new things, being a bit experimental, and seeing what works and what gets good feedback and a response. I still haven’t exactly figured out my target demographic, so I’m not going to restrict myself. ‘ It seems to work as well, a March gig at the Hard Rock Cafe attracting people ‘who had heard me in Portobello about a year ago.’
An urban folk song, rather than one with the usual campestral overtones, it is ‘A London Reminition’ (sic, and to the left) that tends to get the best response from those Portobello Market fans. ‘In fact, I got the greatest compliment the other day. This guy emailed me, saying how him and his girlfriend love ‘A London Reminition’, so much so, that he had written his own words and was going to sing it to her as part of a marriage proposal, so could he have the chords??! For a song to have that much meaning to someone…wow, just the biggest compliment.’
Warm and familiar, The Robbie Boyd Band create music that feels like finding a lost momento. Clearly inspired by our fair city, ‘A London Reminition’ is an observational and gratifying ode based upon daily experiences, unlike Alaska. ‘Ha, this is a good story. I was very lucky to get this song played on BBC Radio 2 by Sir Tim Rice. Last summer he was doing a show about music of the States, and he requested songwriters send in songs about Alaska, it not having much of a music scene itself. It was a strange process, coming from a brief, but most of the time it was just my first ideas and images.’
Following an offputting incident in a school music lesson, Robbie abandoned his early talent, only returning to music seriously in the last couple of years, having started writing a few years ago. ‘It was on my gap year, in Central America; that was the first ever creation of a song that just kind of came from nothing. Myself and a friend were walking down the street and two random guitarists from Utah were improvising and jamming, and I just started singing words over the top, which I’d never done before.
..then this harmonica wielding patron of a local restaurant came out of nowhere and did a middle eight solo. It was just perfect. Then I started singing poems, and writing music to go with them.’
A sensitive soul to the core, and clearly far more dedicated to his new year’s resolutions than most, Robbie has been writing a diary since he was twelve, and it was only recently he discovered that he was even then writing in rhyme. A poet and he didn’t…
The band has evolved to an octet over the last two years, availability and creativity meaning that the live experience and set list is constantly and consistently evolving and rotating. ‘It’s nice to mix it up, have the occasional sax player. Depending on the line up I can choose the songs that sound best with that instrument, so when I played with It’s All Happening and Russell was around, we brought back loads of old stuff.’ Mighty glad we were too.
Given Robbie’s relatively recent re-entry to the music business, production is slick and plans advanced, with the re-recorded album set to grace an internet near you soon. If tracks such as Alaska, Never Never Land (see the video to the right) and A London Reminition sound as good on the new record as they did upstairs in the sunny gallery it will be an enticing and mesmerising piece of spacious folk, with hints of nostalgia for days gone by, but an intensity and directness that keeps it firmly situated in the now. As he plays us out with Never Never Land I text all my friends, imploring them to see The Robbie Boyd Band live. They won’t be unsigned for long.