Introducing…Samuel Powell: “Cornwall is the perfect environment to develop as an artist”

SAMUEL POWELL

Truro-based singer songwriter Samuel Powell is one of Cornwall’s most promising artists and has been touring Cornwall and the South West for the past seven years. Intricate and delicate guitar melodies, sparse instrumentation and Sam’s brooding vocals make up his melancholic yet melodic sound.

His new EP ‘Perfect Alibi’ is set for release in the next month, and will be preceded by a launch gig and after party, both of which details are expected to be announced soon.

As well as one of the many talented artists on these shores, Sam is also the brainchild behind the Howling Jar showcase, a monthly event launched this week at The Nightjar in Truro that will be bringing together local artists for one night of quality live music, with a different theme each month. The showcase debuted last Tuesday with a showcase for Cornwall’s finest female singer-songwriters.

Here, Samuel Powell discusses why Cornwall has such an influence on his music, his time living around the music scene in Bristol, what he thinks could be done to help the Cornish music scene, and why he first set up the Howling Jar showcase.

Which artists do you count as your biggest musical influences?

My biggest influence overall would probably be Jose Gonzalez. I taught myself guitar and took inspiration from his guitar playing style and the chords he used in his songs. Jeff Buckley is another major influence, along with Band of Horses. Then there’s artists from the heavier end of the music spectrum like System of a Down and Queens of the Stone Age, mainly in terms of the intricacy and detail in their song structure.

Can you tell me more about your new EP ‘Perfect Alibi’ which is set for release soon?

It is set for release this July and consists of four new tracks. In a move similar to what Radiohead did with their album ‘In Rainbow’, I’m not actually going to sell it for any particular price; instead I’m going to bring hard copies of the EP to all gigs I will be playing over this year and if anyone wants to buy the EP, they can simply pay as much as they think it’s worth whether it’s 50p or a tenner. The idea behind all this is exposure, not making money. The EP will be preceded by a launch gig and after party; the date for that is to be announced very soon!

SAMUEL POWELL PERFECT ALIBI EP

The music scene in Cornwall is very overlooked. Do you think the Cornish music scene has the potential to get bigger in the future?

Cornwall has its own ‘niche’ and purpose in that it is a great place to write music. The beauty of the place is truly inspiring. In terms of the ‘business’ side of things though, it is always going to be different because it’s so sparsely populated. If you’re living in a city, you can advertise your gigs to large numbers of people and there are all these great music venues on your doorstep, whereas in Cornwall such venues aren’t on your doorstep and you have to drive to get anywhere. I think things are always going to be smaller in Cornwall, especially as for any artists doing a tour, Cornwall isn’t a convenient location like other cities so gets overlooked as a potential location to do a gig. There a lot of things that make Cornwall a less cost-effective place to be able to have a music industry, but I think that’s part of its charm. There’s so much amazing talent here and genuine, unique artists, and Cornwall is the perfect environment to develop as an artist.

What do you think needs to be done to help the Cornish music scene?

More venues, more gigs! Existing venues need to invest more in live music and promoters need to have more confidence in the artists we have. There’s so many music lovers in Cornwall but there isn’t always the gigs for them to go to.  If Truro, for instance, had a few more venues that promoted live music more regularly, it would attract more music lovers to come to Truro. If there’s just the odd gig now and then, no one will be interested in coming here.

You also lived and studied at university in Bristol for a number of years, and fronted a band called Point to the Sun. Did both Bristol and its music scene help you develop as an artist?

There’s a much broader spectrum of music in Bristol. It’s a very art-inspired place and the whole culture there is based around being creative in all forms. The industry in Bristol is very different to how it is in Cornwall. The idea and the importance of ‘image’ is less important in Cornwall than it is in Bristol. In Cornwall it tends to be more about the actual music itself, whereas in Bristol or any other city it’s equally about how you look and the people you know. It’s definitely more about the ‘business’ strengths and how well you are marketed.

Have you ever considered going back to Bristol or any other UK cities and tour outside of Cornwall, to increase your audience?

I’d definitely consider playing in other cities across the UK but in terms of going back to Bristol, for the time being that chapter has ended. If I do go to another city, it will be a completely new place. Staying in Cornwall more means I’m closer to my family and can concentrate on my work with The Nightjar in Truro, and supporting other artists in Cornwall.

Outside of performing, you’re launching the Howling Jar showcase at The Nightjar every fortnight, starting with a showcase tonight for female artists in Cornwall. Can you tell me more about that?

The Howling Jar was originally an open mic night which I set up at The Nightjar. I thought that rather than just organising something where people just turn up and play, I wanted to organise it more like a showcase in the sense that people have to book slots in advance but it’s still open to anyone that wants to play. Mainly, my reason for organising the showcase is that there are a lot of talented artists in Cornwall and I want to bring all our artists together and show the talent that Cornwall has to offer. Plus, I want it to be entertaining for spectators. If it stayed as an open mic, people might eventually lose interest and Cornwall is a small place so there are only a limited number of artists here. The plan is to do a showcase every month with a different theme, such as different genres for instance. I’ve branded it in a way that it can be moved to other venues as well.

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Introducing…Cat Southall

CAT SOUTHALL

 

Cat Southall, the sassy songstress with the soaring voice and former front woman of Sal, is set to release her debut solo album in the near-future ‘Nancy Neuron & the Army of Steambots’. A gloriously grandiose concept album in which Cat’s alter ego Nancy Neuron becomes a superhero after surviving a car crash, the album will be preceded by single Call of Distress which is set for release this summer, and Cat has an even more grandeur vision for its music video which will be filmed over the summer months in Cardiff. The vision? An 80’s inspired choreographed visual involving an army of dancers invading the streets of Cardiff. The singer hopes this is an opportunity for people to get involved with the production, including university students, and fans can contribute by donating money to go towards the funding of the video here.

Cat, aka Nancy Neuron, is no stranger to the music scene, having fronted Sal for a decade as well as working as a session vocalist and arranger with the likes of Tom Jones, Cerys Matthews and Manic Street Preachers among others. Here, she offers an exclusive interview in which she talks about her vision for the album and music video for Call of Distress.

What is the inspiration and concept behind your upcoming album ‘Nancy Neuron & the Army of Steambots’?

When I was with my band Sal, before I decided to go solo, the idea to do a concept album wasn’t something that anybody else wanted to do then. As soon as I went solo, it was the first thing I wanted to do. It’s an opportunity to bring the theatrical side out of me, and I wanted to bring all these elements of my musical upbringing into my debut solo album so I could show what I’m about as an individual and as an artist.

I’ve always been obsessed with comic books and superheroes and the idea behind it. The narrator for this album is a superhero who loses her awareness of her powers after a car accident which puts her in a coma, but eventually regains her powers. I wanted to make the story and character in a way that everyone can relate to them, and convey the idea that everyone can be a superhero in their own worlds, as well as convey the powers of the human mind.

I had a car accident a few years ago, and at that point I felt really low and didn’t feel like myself. I felt I had to put this mask on that I was fine, but deep down I wasn’t. That’s where a lot of the idea for this album has developed from. Its part escapist fantasy and part autobiographical.

Who are your biggest influences both musically and in terms of your performance?

It’s very important to me that when you perform live, you don’t just perform your record but you make it into a show. I don’t want people to come to a gig and just listen to a few songs that they can listen to on the album anyway. I want my shows to be a visual spectacle as well.

I was deeply influenced by Queen and Freddie Mercury, and how dramatic their performances were. Freddie had an operatic voice like me, and when he performed he used the full power of the big stage. It’s always been important for me to still focus on the power of my voice, but to also put some theatrics into my performance and make sure the audience get the whole idea of who I am. I love the fun aspect of music and want to make sure that my music is about fun as well.

I actually feel most like myself when I am on stage, because I can just be as over the top as I want to be and it’s not frowned upon.

CAT SOUTHALL 2

Can you tell us about the inspiration and story behind your next single Call of Distress?

Call of Distress marks the point where I become Nancy Neuron. I’ve just found out I am this superhero and can use the powers of my mind. Therefore, I thought it would make the perfect soundtrack for my vision for this music video.

In the lyrical storyline, she takes to the streets with her army of people, which gives me the opportunity to involve my fans – my army – in this video.

You’re currently planning a huge music video for the single. Can you tell us more about it?

I wanted the music video for Call of Distress to be in the style of music visuals from the 80’s such as those by Michael Jackson and Madonna.

The cast will be caricatures of ‘ordinary people’ in the streets of Cardiff, for instance shop workers, hairstylists, musicians, business men/women, tradesmen, skateboarders, street performers and so on. As soon as my character walks past them, they join in and by the end I got this massive mob of people with me in one location. I want to have a crew of professional dancers playing many of the people in the video, and at the end a massive, choreographed, colourful dance sequence consisting of a whole group of dancers. The rest of the people will be played by my ‘army’ of fans.

How can fans help make your vision for the music video come to life?

I’m still looking for people to help with the costumes and who can realise my vision of what the characters should look like. In the past, I’ve done all the costumes myself but I want to open it up now, as this will be a great opportunity for other people to get involved, particularly students in Cardiff. Plus, as many actors and dancers as possible! I will have a lead choreographer who can direct all the crew. Finally, as many extras as I can get who can play all the people in the streets. Any further information for this video will go on my Facebook and Twitter.

Is there any other musical projects, or projects outside of music, you are currently working on?

I want to release the whole album as soon as possible. The plan was to release my first solo single One Day at a Time and then have Call of Distress as the preceding single to build up to the album. I want to be gigging and doing a full tour to promote both the single and the album. I believe this album has the potential to go a long way, from a small stage to hopefully a bigger production. I’ve already begun writing for the next album but at the moment I’m focused on making this release as big as it can be.

The ideas are definitely big but it’s just having the money and resources to make these ideas come to life, which is why I’ve set up the funding page. I’ve added little prizes for any donations made, which also gives me an opportunity to give something back to my fans for all their support throughout my musical journey.

Do you have any new goals which you want to achieve as a solo artist?

Songwriting is a big passion of mine. Over the years, I’ve been writing and arranging for other artists, and it’s long been a dream of mine to eventually get a publishing deal and be able to write more for different artists. Another dream is to perform on a much bigger scale and grow as an artist, and gain a bigger following. I want to stay on this path I’m on and hope it will eventually lead to all this, and as long as it keeps being a huge passion of mine and I love what I’m doing, that’s all that matters. I want to be doing this for the rest of my life.

You can find out more about the Call of Distress music video fundraising campaign and make a donation here.

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Introducing…Turna Phrase

TURNA PHRASE

Following on from my recent interview with Shane ‘Shaydee’ Nexman, arguably one of the architects of the Cardiff underground hip-hop/rap scene, I spoke to one of the many ‘hidden gem’ musicians lurking deep within the scene – acoustic folk/rap troubadour Stefan Murphy, better known by his alias ‘Turna Phrase’.

If I had to describe his musical style, it would be best summed up as being ‘acoustic hip hop infected folk’. Turna Phrase bridges both genres together with seamless ease, then completely knocks down the bridge between both and moulds it all into one musical beast while retaining the lyrical angst and social commentary of each genre.
I spoke to the musician about his musical influences, the Cardiff underground music scene and his plans for the future.

Do you have any new material coming out soon?

I have a new EP coming out called ‘The Thorns’, consisting of six tracks, which should hopefully be released in a months’ time, and I worked with some great producers on there.

You have a diverse range of influences in your sound. Which artists inspire you the most?

I grew up mostly listening to rock music, especially being from Wales where there was a strong, local rock scene at the time. I have a lot of rock influences in my sound, for instance from home grown bands like Funeral for a Friend or nu-metal bands such as Linkin Park which bridge the divide between rock and rap music.
Jurassic 5 were probably the first rap/hip-hop band I got into, and at the same time I was into acoustic artists such as Ben Howard, so I definitely experimented with both genres at the time I started writing and recording my own music.

How long have you been performing music for?

I’m been performing my own music for eight years now, starting out when I was just 14. I’ve only been playing proper gigs just recently though, so it’s been a long time to get any recognition.
I think I started rapping only because I couldn’t really sing, and needed to find another way of performing my own lyrics, and gradually I developed my own sound out of that.

Has the Cardiff underground hip-hop scene been a big influence on you, and helped you develop as an artist?

The people involved in the scene have been very supportive, and through attending different gigs that promote the scene and all these artists, I’ve met so many good friends. Not only are they hugely talented artists and dedicated to their art and craft, but they’re extremely helpful and are supportive of fellow artists. It’s something that rubs off, and there’s a general consensus of ‘we’ll help each other and build each other up’.

Do you think the Cardiff underground scene has the potential to grow bigger within the next few years?

We are a very diverse group of artists. You’ve got artists in the drum ’n’ bass genre, grime, hip-hop genre and other artists such as myself that have their own unique sound and are more rooted in the indie or acoustic genre. Any musical scene has the potential to flourish. It just depends on how much we support each other and how much we want it.

Do you want to take your music further, and play in venues outside of Cardiff and Wales?

I’ll take my music as far as I possibly can. It’s always been a big hope of mine that music will be a big part of my life and career. I don’t ever want to wonder about the ‘what if’s’, I want to take every opportunity I can to get myself and my music noticed by a wider audience.

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Introducing… Shaydee Nexman

SHAYDEE NEXMAN

When you think of the British hip-hop scene, Wales doesn’t necessarily come to mind as being a hotbed of hip-hop talent (with the exception of Goldie Lookin’ Chain perhaps). However, under our noses there is currently a strong, exciting underground rap battle scene taking place in Cardiff courtesy of the Epic Bars League. The league was set up with the intention of staging rap battles in different music venues in Cardiff, to give local hip-hop artists an outlet to express their talent and passion. One of the masterminds behind it all is Cardiff-based rapper/producer Shayne ‘Shaydee’ Nexman.

As well as running the Epic Bars project along with fellow Welsh hip hop artist Kyle ‘Unique’ Farthing, Shaydee is currently working on other projects, including an event to help homeless people in Cardiff and Newport. He also released a track called Unforgettable in dedication to his friend who sadly passed away, Jason Shephard, and is hoping to raise money from the track’s release for his friend’s son on his 18th birthday.

Here, Shaydee gives an exclusive interview in which he talks about the track, his latest project to help the homeless, and whether there is a bright future for the Welsh hip-hop scene.

Firstly, can you tell us more about the Epic Bars rap battle league based in Cardiff which you work with?

I founded Epic Bars City Battles four years ago with my friend Kyle Farthing, aka Unique. At the time we founded it, there was nothing in Wales to pursue what we wanted to do, so it was either to make a platform ourselves or to travel around the UK. There was a lot of MC’s in Wales that didn’t have a springboard, so I wanted to get them all together, plan something together and make it happen which it eventually did.

I did the first event in 48 Below which is now closed down, and it gradually grew and moved to different venues. I did seven in a year to start off with and in its second year, it started to get a bit more serious. There was much more drama involved in the scene. Rappers wanted to battle with other rappers, and people wanted to see other battles being staged. Last year has been going well, and we’ve been getting more views on our YouTube channel and more subscribers, plus more fans coming to the events.

At the moment, I’m having a break from it to focus on other projects as well as my own musical output, but hopefully we will start our next event in Kama Lounge every Tuesday.

The hip hop scene in Cardiff and Wales is much overlooked. Do you think there is a bright future for the Welsh hip hop scene, and more potential for this scene to grow bigger?

Honestly, half of the UK doesn’t know the hip hop scene in Wales exists. Wales has always been behind in music generally. With the exception of Goldie Lookin Chain, who are a much more commercial hip hop act rather than underground, there haven’t been many acts at all from Wales that have received anywhere near the same exposure.

There are definitely a lot of great, up-and-coming artists in Wales though who could potentially make a breakthrough into the mainstream and perhaps achieve success on a national or even global scale in the future. Eventually, someone from the scene will break out of this ‘spider web’ and in the process help both the hip hop scene and the whole music scene in Wales gradually get bigger, and put Wales on the musical map.

How long have you been performing and producing music for?

I’ve been rapping for over ten years, but the last four months I’ve been making my own tracks again. I’ve written lots of material in the past with my friend Unique but we’ve never recorded anything we felt wasn’t worth putting out there. We just worked more on our freestyle, our writing, plus working with Epic Bars which has taken up a lot of our time. The last few months we’ve been bringing out track after track. I wouldn’t class myself as a professional producer yet. I’ve mixed and mastered all of my tracks, but I haven’t done a university degree to study music or music production. All of what I’ve learned is self-taught, and I’ll simply learn more and get better as time goes on.

Are there any inspirations or personal experiences that influence your music?

I’ve not had the hardest life growing up, nor have I had the easiest. I’ve got stories to tell that I hope other people can relate to. There are a lot of people I’m close to or been close to who I like to write about, and the situations in their life as well as mine. I’ve had up and downs like everyone else, but you just got to get back on your feet and make things happen for yourself in life.

You’re currently planning an event to help homeless people in Newport and Cardiff. Could you explain more about that?

What we’re aiming to do is to give 100 homeless people in Cardiff and Newport free meals every month. It will be held in Delilah’s in Newport, and we’ll try to organise transport.

It still needs to be carefully planned and arranged so it may be a good few weeks before it can take off, and we want to get as many charities and volunteers involved as possible even if it is just to speak to them and have a conversation with them, and maybe help these people to get back into work or at least get off the streets.

There are a lot of charities out there working hard to turn around the lives of those living homeless, but unfortunately not many of them maybe have the connections to make that possible. If I could maybe use all the connections I have to help those less fortunate than myself and if someone I know is willing to help give me the resources to do, then I will make it my mission to help them.

Is there additionally any personal reason for wanting to do this?

I’ve been kicked out my home and had to live homeless at one point in my life, not technically on the streets but having family issues and having to stay with friends. It does put you in a bad frame of mind. Negativity takes over and you can’t take any positives out of life to make something of yourself. It’s a constant struggle and that’s how many people think these days, that’s why a lot of them are out on the streets. They think they’re on their own and no one’s there to help them.

The night before, I was speaking to this man living on the streets in Cardiff called Matthew, who was telling me how his dad’s death led to him being kicked out of his home by the landlord as he couldn’t afford to live there. To lose your dad and then be kicked out onto the streets in such a short time, with no one to care for you, is something I felt awful about. People have to understand that these people are only on the streets because they have nothing else or no one else to lean on.

You released a new track called Unforgettable yesterday? Could you share with us the story behind the track, and what you want to achieve with it?

One of my good friends who I grew up with, Jason Shephard, sadly passed away two years ago. I wrote this track about him, the good times I had with him, and why life can be so difficult and tragic sometimes. The whole point behind this release is to sell it on a major digital music retailer and give all the money funded from the track being downloaded to his son on his 18th birthday. For his son to not have his father in his life anymore, to guide him on his path or give him one to follow, is something that makes me feel sad but which I feel I can’t do anything about. This is my way of trying to help his son, and the money raised from the track could hopefully go towards furthering his education or bettering his life in any way. My friend did a lot for me as I was growing up and this is my way of returning the favour.

The track got played on BBC Radio Wales yesterday just a day after its release. How did that feel?

It was a wonderful feeling to have such a great reception in such a short space of time. On the day, I performed the track live at Maindee Festival in Newport just after its release, and won a competition with my performance. That night, it was played on BBC Wales by Adam Walton. For all that to happen in one day was amazing, and I hope more people listen to it and maybe take some hope and inspiration from it.

The track Unforgettable is available to buy now and all of the money raised from the track will go towards Jason Shephard’s son on his 18th birthday. You can purchase the track and make a donation here.

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