After three years of travelling the highways and byways, John Bramwell has released his long-awaited debut solo studio album, Leave Alone the Empty Spaces. It comprises a collection of songs, all of which have been road-tested after Bramwell performed at more than 300 solo gigs across the UK and Europe.
Readying the release has been a labour of love for the musician, not least because the solo nature of the project extends to the myriad administrative aspects. In effect, Bramwell is his own label (with the help of a few trusted hands); when I phone to discuss the album, Bramwell is in the post office sending out CDs to fans. Another trip is in the offing.
“I have another 500 to sign of the vinyl,” he tells me. “I think that’s a bottle of wine job. A bottle of wine and three good films. What a terrible hardship. I think I’ll be able to manage it.”
Not that Bramwell is frustrated with his lot. Once he’d returned from the shops, he sounded positive and upbeat about the release, and that positivity comes through the recordings. If an album of songs inspired by the road fills you with dread, fear not, Bramwell’s collection has a sunnier outlook than the usual gripes about pampered rock stars moaning about travelling from hotel to enormodome. This is something real and organic, as you would expect from a premier songsmith.
“I did my Live at the Trades album and I have been booking my own gigs for the last three years. I just went around without making a big deal. I wanted to see how many people would come to see me on spec.”
Live at the Trades sold more than 2,000 copies and has, in part, funded the new album. he has also saved money by booking his own gigs.
The very nature of the recording is homespun (literally) with Bramwell’s home and garage among the places where he recorded the new music. The garage is everything that you would expect it to be, as he explains: “It’s got the tumble dryer and the girlfriend’s motorbike. I’ve even got a portable gas heater. If I am going to record in there, I get the heater on for half an hour and then I turn it off and then I am fine. I feel slightly eccentric doing it that way.”
Times Arrow, released last year as a single, is a song recorded in this manner, using Garageband. The album was mastered at Airtight Studios in Chorlton. This new way of doing things has added to the spontaneity of the record, and he says that problems with his new album are no different to being signed to a record label, as he was with the band I Am Kloot.
“Sometimes I would be signed to a label and the one after I would be doing the licensing deal, the one after that we would be doing it ourselves so we never had much stability. Did we have a five-album deal contract? I don’t think we did. The first time I was on a record label they went into liquidation. We’ve [I Am Kloot] been well known, but not massive not enough to kick back.”
Bramwell’s new strategy has extended to touring. The new album was inspired by his travels in his camper-van with his dog Henry, although he is at pains to stress that the rumour of it being a VW is way off the mark.
“Somewhere that’s got changed to a VW. They’re too right on for me, they’re for very rich sociology teachers. I can’t afford a VW and they are bloody too slow and unreliable. I’ve got an old Mercedes Sprinter and my mate has put in a cooker and a bed in it. He’s done a really good job actually. It’s got a bit of rust on it, but it does the job.”
He adds: “I’ve been playing and singing for a long time in my life and I have never actually done it this way. It is really good. I realised about five years ago that I was never going to end up rich from music. If I was going to be, it would have happened by now. My attitude is to take what’s good from it. And what’s good from it is to make the time your own. And make the gig your own. With the van my dog comes with me. We have a laugh. It’s not the kind of getting back to the hotel at 3am stuff any more, which is great.”
Bramwell’s forthcoming tour sees him joined on the road by several supporting musicians. Those who attended the excellent Royal Northern Collage of Music gig last November will be familiar with how these concerts unfold.
“I’ll have Piano, Dave on bass, Andy on Cajon and harmonies. I don’t know about the pedal steel and the cello. It’s just about getting everybody on the road. There’s four of us definitely. There might a few additions along the way.”
It’s good to see Dave Fidler accompanying Bramwell again as he’s been a welcome mainstay on the solo gigs. There’s obviously a rapport between the pair, with Bramwell often joking that when he plays live, he’s going to pack Fidler off because of his good looks and abundant talent.
“I saw Dave at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival about five years back. I just thought ‘wow, this guy is brilliant” and he was doing cover versions. I said to my girlfriend, ‘I bet his songs are great’. I booked him to support me and they were.”
Not only is Bramwell readying the new collection of songs, there’s also a live album due for release. This brings together tunes from last year’s Manchester and London gigs. There’s also the promise of more new material in the near future. “When I have been going around raising money for gigs I didn’t stop writing. The next album will be out January 2019.”
Photos by Chris Payne
Leave Alone the Empty Spaces is available to buy now. There are a string of live dates starting on November 15 at the Pocklington Arts Centre, culminating with a homecoming gig on December 15, 2017 at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.