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Speak, Brother

Updates and musings from the guys

Those eyes. That smile. Magnificent.

So I was in bed, and I couldn’t get that face I saw out of my head.. Those eyes.. That smile. I scribbled down words which ended up becoming quickest set of lyrics I’ve ever written..

That night was date night and we went to one of the oldest working cinemas in the country. Quite different – They don’t do popcorn. Initially gutted, but they have sofas and you can order drinks and really nice cakes via text. Nice!

Anyway the film began and at times it was quite a hard watch. 1950’s Black america. Full of inequality, poverty. racism, bitterness, loneliness, depression.

Films like these invite you into the suffering. It’s uncomfortable. But it pulls you out of your own world for a second and you start to share in something.

But actually it was one particular frame right at the end of the film that imprinted something on me, and still remains.

It was a face. The face of a child, born from an adulterous relationship. Doomed to the same life of pain and suffering as the generations before it you see in the film. Yet somehow there was an innocence in her eyes and a hope in her smile. Almost wild. That she dared to believe something better. Something new.

It’s so natural to label things and see things as comparisons and opposites, right? Tall – short. Pretty – ugly. Rich – poor. Black – white. Christian – Buddhist. Us – them. In – out.

It moves us to a place where we don’t see what’s in front of us any more. The label or judgement is all we see. Things just can’t ‘be’, without requiring some kind of distinction. Something good on one side, and not so good on the other.

But what would be left if all those labels where peeled away right in front of us?

I think I got a glimpse of that in the face of that girl in the film.

Like a Father holding a new born child. In all it’s frailty, smallness and vulnerability the natural response is just:

‘Flippin heck.. you are MAGNIFICENT’

No judgement based on the past, or worries of the future. Just that moment.

This child. This Magnificent child is you. It’s even me. It’s every brother and sister on this planet. From birth.

The single ‘Magnificent’ came out Sept 22 and is available here on download and Vinyl

 

Racing Red Wagons and Den Building

These days seem to be so flippin’ complicated and hectic at times don’t they? I used to think it’d get easier as I grow up as I make my own decisions, but actually life used to be so much simpler didn’t it?

I walked past a house with a really cool metal red wagon outside it which brought back some sweet memories.. It looked just like the one in the picture above. Yep, that’s me.. The little chubby squishy thing sitting in my cousin’s rusty old red wagon. When I was a little older, I had one for myself.

I loved that thing..

Yeh, typically I’d drag all by best stuff around with me, particularly to and from the Dens I’d make. But we lived on a large hill. And the best thing you could do was sit inside the wagon, pull back the handle, turning it into the coolest go-kart ever, and push myself down this crazy big rocky hill..

Didn’t it feel like we had all the time in the world back then? Now there doesn’t seem to be enough time..

I don’t know about you, but I’ve hit plenty of times where I’ve tripped and fallen out of the hamster wheel and thought ‘why am I doing this’?

But why should we be these serious robots, to work all the time, accept the crushing pressures, to just get on with it, stiff upper lip, life goes on, working harder and harder and seemingly getting no where?

Well, we all have responsibilities now.. there’s not much you can do about that can you??

Of course, there’s so much more stuff we have to do and be responsible for as we grow older. And that’s awesome..

But as a young kid, I didn’t compare myself with others. I didn’t continually put myself down because others were better or further along than me. I didn’t care I was obviously a chubby little tyke either! I just enjoyed life. Building stuff. Racing stuff. Playing with friends.

There’s something in that childlike simplicity that I don’t think should grow old. There’s a Joy in the risk taking freedom. Isn’t that our natural state with which we are born? Joy. I think it’s time to rediscover it.

Maybe complexity in life isn’t really that bad.. In fact, when looking at it with child-like enthusiasm, it’s kinda fascinating. Something to be discovered, chased down, figured out.

Maybe then even build something. Like we did out of lego, sand or a even a Den in the woods.

These thoughts and more are all threaded in the upcoming Album Young & Brave.

The first installment is out Sept 22 which you can Pre Order here if you like.

Speak soon,

James

Album Recording Studio update

After 9 months of crafting our songs, we finally took to the studio in May to finish recording of the full Album at Magic Garden Studios. We had the chance to work with the legend Gavin Monaghan and Joe Murray (Editors, Jaws, The Twang, Ocean Colour Scene) to help us to find and hone our sound. One month later and it’s all done..

It was such an incredible experience, with lots of incredible stories of how bare outlines of songs were filled with exciting colour and detail.. We can’t wait to get them to you!

A Day In the Studio

Gary, a good friend of ours came to the studio with his trusty Tuk Tuk and wrote of his observations..

OK, I’ll start this  blog with a request. I ask you to accept that I cannot play any form of musical instrument whatsoever, I’ve never been inside a recording studio before, never mind seen a full album being produced, and have no idea of how to distinguish a crotchet from a quaver. I’m most certainly not a Music Journalist. But I  DO love music, particularly live music, and particularly music of the Speak, Brother variety. I guess that makes me a fan right? So that’s the deal, I’m a fan, writing from the heart about a debut album from a great band. Biased? Probably. Is this blog clumsy and cliche ridden?  Most definitely. Despite all that, if it prompts you to take a listen, it’s done its job. Accept all that and we’re good to go!

A bit of background. I have been familiar with the music of Speak, Brother since the release of their single ‘Lions Roar’, the unofficial Rugby World Cup song, when the tournament  came to England’s shores in 2015. They appeared on the BBC regional news to promote the song, and my curiosity was aroused. A catchy, punchy, anthemic song which should, if there was any justice in the world, have become the OFFICIAL World Cup song, I suppose you could say my Faith was in Speak,Brother, not Paloma (go on, Google it, I know you want to)Several live gigs later, and S,B  were firmly on my musical radar. A couple of EP releases,  a listen to  a smattering of James Herring solo singles, and it’s fair to say I was hooked. Musically mature beyond their years, with an innate ability to make their music sound sincere but not studied; earnest, but free of  schmaltz,  uplifting, but not over the top. Not easy to pull off, but they do it with aplomb.

So with an abundance  of live gigs under their belt, and some memorable songs already established in their back catalogue, they announced almost a year ago that they were going to write and produce a full length album.Through the wonders of crowd funding and anonymous (and VERY generous  individual backing,) S,B find themselves in residence at the very wonderful, quirky, Magic Garden music studios in Wolverhampton. I announce here without a hint of shame that I asked to come along to witness proceedings. They agree, and I find myself inside the studio, which is exactly as I imagine it; shabby chic, packed to bursting with some really cool vintage instruments, ex Army parachutes draped from the ceiling, all accompanied by a tryptyche of pencil drawings of Donald Sutherland as the spy in the 39 Steps, and a huge hand painted image of Bill Murray on the wall. Why Bill Murray? Well,  why not?

I met the Magic Garden lynchpins, Producer Gavin Monaghan and Engineer Joe Murray and hit it off immediately; they’re my kind of people. The jokes  never stop,  but neither does the professionalism, they’ve a job of work to do and they are masters at getting things done. I hear a couple of contenders for the album being worked up. Starting with ‘Magnificent’ Soaring, anthemic (that word again), a song comfortable in its own skin,  proud of itself, and rightly so. A powerful percussive beat keeping things on track. It’s easy to visualise this song being played in a stadium, James Herring’s powerful and increasingly confident vocals stealing the show.  A hymn on steroids right there.

A great start, followed immediately by a song which on first listening, is a polar opposite to Magnificent. ‘Man of Honour,slow, quiet brooding, introspective, thoughtful, considered. Reminiscent of REM’s ‘Sweetness Follows’ from 90’s masterpiece album ‘Automatic For the People’ Not necessarily similar in sound, but in temperament, in feel, a song to sit down and really listen to. Some songs can get away with being heard, some demand to be listened to; this is one such song.

Dan, the S,B drummer gets to work on the percussion element of the 3rd song I hear; Princess. A song about a 12 year old girl committing suicide, feeling helpless and ignored, worthless with no-one to turn to. Guitars, Drums, Mandolin, The standout element to me was the Harmonium in the background, mesmeric, haunting, a hybrid of church organ and Hare Krishna Ashram, it draws you in, and compels you to listen. A little bit of Matt Cotterill genius right there. That man knows how to tickle the ivories..

A day of doughnuts (not any old doughnuts, Krispy Kreme doughnuts!), coffee, hot and black, poured from a kettle last used on Little House on the Prairie, surreal, stream of consciousness stories from Joe, and trips from the studio to town in my tuk tuk to blow away the cobwebs in the late Spring.  What’s not to like? If the 3 songs I heard from S,B are anything to go by, this debut album is going to be….Magnificent. I pull away from the studio in my blinged out tuk tuk for the long drive home, and in a week of terror and horror in Manchester, feel hope and optimism coursing through my veins. The music’s done its job.

Gary Cross, June 2017

The “He’ll Fight” Story

Hope you had a great Easter weekend..

It’s been amazing hearing feedback from the He’ll Fight song and video.. It means so much to us as we’re so passionate about it’s story..

I was reading a terrible news story here this week stating that 4000 kids last year alone called Childline saying they’re lonely. I can’t think how many more boys and girls are suffering who don’t know Childline, or feel they can’t talk about it.

As heartbreaking as it is to read it, I wasn’t surprised. For so many reasons loneliness is a massive issue in our ever more busy, preoccupied, ‘social’ media culture and it’s the root of so many other problems.

It adds fuel to the fire in reminding me why we write music and how important we feel music and all other art is in giving voice to these things..

He’ll Fight is inspired by a true story of Grace, where a judge in court believed in a young woman when no else would – and didn’t give up. 

I heard the story on the radio last year. I can’t remember the crime, but it could have been a 1 year sentence. But the judge in hearing the full story understood that it was in fact it was her addiction to drugs that was the root cause. And so gave her community service and rehab.

She completed that and a couple years later the same judge heard that the girl had re-offended with the same crime! She had got back in with the same crowd she was in with before and was taking drugs again. She then stood trial again and the judge (a different judge) sentenced her to prison.

Now, the first judge was angry as he knew this wasn’t the best for her. He actually contested, then when that failed he visited her in prison and later became her mentor. She eventually was independent from drugs and now lives a fulfilling life.

You could say that this girl did not deserve that. Many people were angry she didn’t get a larger sentence! But it’s a beautiful story. To have someone fight for you and believe in you like that when the world is against you..

Where ever you’re at, there’s always Hope. Always. A timely story and more inspiring to me than even a chocolate egg. The kind of story anyone feeling lonely should know.

That’s what SO much of the Album is about too. Will share more on that this week as we get closer to finally record it!

James

Watch the video here:

Pre-Order

Here we are…

.. another brand spanking new year. In between seeing family and pigging out, I’ve locked myself away in my room over the last few days. My desk covered in scribbles and books and a voice recorder always close to hand as I write these songs..

What a year 2016 has been. Generally, I’ve heard the year called all sorts of names.. Most of them bad. The rest, really bad. Ha! Ok a touch dramatic I guess. But it seems there’s so much change. So much fear, separation and disconnection. Wars, tails of deception and more devastating terror attacks all over the world. It literally feels social and political tectonic plates are shifting like crazy below our feet and it’s a wonder we’re still standing. All topped off with what seems so many of our most favourite pioneers of arts and sources of inspiration have passed away.

More and more however, I believe, in these times of fear, confusion and desperation that we’re all in, there will be more and more opportunities for us each to connect with people around us. Each of us has a purpose in this together. And I think, we’ll see more positive change from the ground up. We are all brothers and sisters on this little golf ball of a planet after all, right?

My challenge to myself is to not become stretched too thin, to be too busy, too overwhelmed to forget that. And to try and not forget how bloomin’ blessed I am to be alive and breathing.

I’m glad, now we’re in 2017, we can look forward with a sense of optimism. Which is what a I love about this time of year. It gives you an opportunity to react positively. A fresh start. Just like a chilly bright frosty morning after a long night.

Dream big this year.. and write it down in permanent marker. A lot can happen in a year. If this time last year some one told me we’d be in the middle of recording a proper full length fan funded Album with Ian Grimble this year, I’d laugh in their face. ‘Not on your nelly!!’ I’d say. Yet here we are.. I’m still waiting for someone to wake me up ha..

On that note, back to songwriting! Wishing you your best year yet!

Much love and speak soon,

James

The Album – It’s really happening and it all starts next week!

We had to put it out early.. Before we could talk ourselves out of it. A quick, wild shout to the world before we got too realistic, too sensible or too ‘grown up’. Like the tail end of a game of ‘Bogies’ in the library.

Yep, we’re sticking to our sheepish announcement we made a couple months ago and so much has happened since! We’ve made some great headway in writing and we’ve also got on board an amazing producer, Ian Grimble who has worked with the likes of Rhodes, Matthew and the Atlas, Bears Den, Daughter and Seth Lakeman!

Writing specifically for an album, rather than songs individually is a real journey for us. The themes that are forming at the moment are really close to our hearts. Stories that have moved us, and deserve to be retold and all along the way, we want you to be part of it.We need to raise a heap of money to afford it all and the target is outrageously large for a band our size. So scary! But, it’s time for us to go crazy and take a risk. I believe it’ll work, somehow, hopefully with your help.

So the fundraising will start next week and we want to get off to a great start! So, if you’re willing to invest in an album from us for yourself then get your fingers on the trigger! Recording is due to start in December so no time to waste!

Keep an eye for the crowdfunding link..

James

A song on a mountain top

I’m not a natural singer. My family will tell you my bedroom signing was more than painful to experience. I remember trying to sing/shout the high notes from some 90’s punk rock songs and although I remember loving it, I’m pretty sure my notes fell way flat.

Earlier this year, walking up a mountain comes with its own moments of serenity but this mountain trip had a nice extra serene surprise at the top. On a sunny February in Spain, myself and my partner in crime went to Montserrat, just outside Barcelona. It has a monistry half way up the mountain which you could actually take the half way up to (lazy I know, but we only had a few hours )

At some point along the way, whilst taking in the stunning views I could hear a faint melody in the air.. We shrugged it off and carried on, until I caught sight of a couple of guys some way above us, kneeling down, staring out into the distance. Out of the still silence, one of them started singing.. He was quite far away, but you could still just make out a beautiful melody. He sang loud and proud. I figure he must of been one of the monks from the monistry. I love it because unlike walking, talking, running, breathing, there’s no direct purpose. You don’t need to sing to survive per say. Rather, you get to.

I guess it’s like an outlet. A steam pressure release. Just like screaming out in agony, when you stub your toe on a corner! Imagine trying to keep a straight face and not cry out in pain when you stub your toe or step on a plug?!As I said, I’m no natural singer. I guess I just kept doing it, and I happened to be ok at it at the moment.

Singing is somehow freeing, powerful and profound. Sing in the good times, and sing in the complicated and hard times. Just please don’t ever let the fear of what you sound like to others stop you.

When ever I think of mountains, I now think of this song by a friend Malc Evans

Speak soon,

James

The blind lady that could see for miles…

A few weeks after the release of Light Runs After Us and I just wanted to share some thoughts on the final song ‘See for Miles’…

It was one of these weird, warm fuzzy feelings.. A little like seeing a friends new born baby for the first time. A pure kind of feeling that pushed away any selfish ambitions or emotions that often contaminate and consume our everyday busy lives.

At a gig a couple years ago we caught sight of this lady. A ‘normal’ looking lady. In that there weren’t any particular features about her that stood out other than you could tell she was in fact blind. There was something about her that was different though.

It was one of these audition type gigs in the hope of playing a festival. Now, I’m not really fond of performing against other artists. Find it really gets in the way of enjoying the art of music. Back then though, we were a little more insecure with our own sound and abilities, than we perhaps are now, and inevitably, all we could think about was ourselves and our performance.  So we were very much in our own little ‘bubbles’. Which just goes against the grain of everything we set out to do.. Because how can you connect with people, if all you’re thinking about is yourself?!

Anyways, some way through the night, we caught site of this blind lady. And in complete contrast to what was happening in my own little world, she seemed to glow and radiate Joy. Completely standing out from what seemed like a room made up of weighed down, weary and disheartened souls. You could tell she just loved music. She just expressed herself without inhibition. Smiled, laughed, clapped her hands. Pretty much dancing in her seat.

There was something beautiful about her. Something simple. The biggest thing for me, is that it seemed she just didn’t care what others thought of her actions. Complete at peace within herself.

Blind from birth.. Yeh, I have no idea how hard it must be. I mean, to never see the ocean? But then I think what would it be like to not be exposed to the huge amounts of pressure on us on how to look, how to act. To perform in life every single day and to be judged on your performance.

The media and marketing push it relentlessly, first making a perceived need, then sell you stuff to fill it. We all know this, but it’s hard. The success of marketing is built on how well you are convinced you’ll never be quite good enough. A constant message of discontent to make a sale, we need stuff, and they need money. A sick dependency really.

But seeing her, blissfully unaware of the whole deal, was a beautiful moment. She doesn’t know and doesn’t care that there’s someone apparently better out there. It seemed that all she knew was that she loved where she was and nothing got in the way of being full of Joy.

Somewhere down the line, we’ve forgotten that we were beautiful right from conception. This song serves as a reminder to us to look out for the Joy in life and turn a blind eye to anything that says otherwise.

Here’s the lyrics video. You can also listen on Spotify or grab a CD / Download here: https://rocketfuelhq.com/speakbrotheruk#shop

 

Looking at 2016 with a Wizard’s wise words..

I’m not normally a New Years resolution making chap.. Although I do like to try to remember what actually happened as 2015 flew by..

For one reason or another, over the year I’ve been watching the world much more closely than I have previously. Especially in the last few months, I’ve found myself starting to sink into a pit of despair whilst helplessly witnessing the happenings in Paris, the US, and especially in the Middle East. I’ve tried to look deeper than ever before into the details of the who, what, when and perceived reasons as to how the heck these tragedies happen.

The more crap I find happens in this world, the smaller this world feels to me. It’s pretty bleak to honest. The more attention I pay, the harder it is, but also the closer it all feels to home. And perhaps that’s a good thing. Because the more aware I am of people’s sufferings, the more I feel part of it and the more I treat them as a neighbour. No matter how far they are away.

But I can see it’s obvious no matter what the will of our world leaders, fear is spreading here in the West. Fear and uncertainty is a divider. And it’s easy to use things like our own national identity, skin colour, religion to justify that division. Separating ourselves from the problem in that we should just get on with our own lives and let the cares of others sort themselves out. I know most of us don’t mean anything in a Scrooge like ‘let them die to decrease the surplus population’ thing but I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves the question: ‘what can we possibly do to change anything?’

Right now in the north of Britain, there’s a whole load of record level flooding. 1000’s of homes and businesses are ruined. One man from Yorkshire who’s been really badly affected and had every excuse to be bitter and self occupied said this:

“All you morons vomiting your xenophobia on here about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question… am I a decent and honourable human being? Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet.”

I do feel like if everyone remembered that we are all brothers and sisters on this earth, it’d be a lot easier to make decisions about people’s lives, over and above financial interest and well being.

In terms of myself and Speak, Brother in 2015.. Well, I could say that we’ve played 50 odd shows and launched two singles and videos (one for the Rugby World Cup of course).. In many respects, a good year.

But I have to ask myself the question: Does it matter?

A little critical I guess. But this year if I keep this kind of perspective then perhaps instead of just being a person in the music business, I’d be in the people business, making music. Maybe then I’ll find myself more often in a position to somehow make it matter.

Anyways, this is starting to sound like a Gandalf monologue with The Shire music warmly whistling over it.. ha! But I’m not going to apologise for that. Instead, I’ll leave you with a Wizard’s wise words:

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

What do you think?

James

“If only”s and “What might be”s..

So here’s something that’s been on my mind recently..

Have you ever found yourself imagining a life that is better than what it seems you have right now?

Mmm.. Yeh thought so..  Sometimes it’s a new car. Or a bigger house. A better job. A new phone. To be debt free. Or even as innocent as a simple holiday with the family. What ever it’s for, the daily routines of life can just be a constant reminder that these dreams are no closer than when first dreamt.

We’re often looking out ahead, or sometimes behind. Those “If only”s, or the “What might be”s that often fade into the distance.. They’re sometimes the fruits of regret or the fear of failure. But most of the time, they are the result of the overriding pressure that’s on us, everyday.

The pressure is this:

“Where we are or have is not good enough and we somehow need more to be happy, successful or comfortable.”

I’ve often said things like this concerning Speak, Brother. The band does take up a lot of head space and although it all seems like for a good reason, I often try to take things so far to the point of being completely consumed with making the most of everything.

This pressure can drive us away from the very thing that I believe we truly, desperately want. Companionship. Love. Friendship. But instead, all that falls by the wayside and true happiness and content is far away.

It wasn’t until a few key points in my life, which the song ‘Slow to Now‘ describes, where I remembered what I was leaving behind, in my pursuit for so called ‘success and happiness’.

It’s not found in tomorrow, next week, or some day. But right now. Dreams and desires are good. But what good are they, if you run with them on your own?

I think I’m realising that Dreams and desires are only attained when doing them with other people around you. Never go solo.

‘Slow to Now’ is now a constant reminder to me every time we play it to make the most of the people around me, right now.

So that’s me.. Can you remember your #SlowtoNow moments? A trip to the beach, a birthday, a long chat with a friend? Tweet @SpeakBrotheruk or share with us on Facebook 🙂