Some might have deemed it too early for a Chrimbo knees up, but all signs pointed to the festive period. Our short walk to The Boileroom was met with a slap to the face from the bitter bite of the winter winds – fluorescent lights were littered throughout the town centre and, most importantly, Wetherspoons was absolutely stacked to the rafters with tinsel. It’s certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Instantly juxtaposing the glacial climate was the warm smile of Katie, Jamie’s wife. At the risk of sounding like a bad TripAdvisor review – Katie was incredibly welcoming and her visibly inherent kindness only furthered the accommodating nature of our arrival at the venue. She escorted us through the reception and up the stairs, we were taken to the humbly bijou dressing room in which stood Jamie Lenman himself. He was busy finding me somewhere to sit throughout the interview, ensuring to go the extra mile by wiping the stool down with some kitchen roll – a very cool gesture but, of course, not the most striking element of our meeting. The suit.
Sharp Dressed Lenman.
“You look dashing”. Jamie chuckles thanks back in my direction and then retorted about his bright maroonish suit – “I ordered this off a website and it said it was red… this is not fucking red!”. After he explained how Katie had sewn white tinsel onto it in order to bolster the festivity, I wanted to further the probing about Lenman’s dress sense. I commented on how I’d spotted him strolling around muddy and sweaty festivals like 2000trees looking fresh as a daisy, dressed in a classy and proper 3-piece suit. “Is it a conscious decision to keep this image going?”. But for Jamie, it’s not an image at all. “It’s turned into an image because I’m in the public eye and because people take photos of me. I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything particularly special for a photoshoot, it’s always just the clothes that I would usually wear – they’re all my everyday clothes”. The image of Jamie sprawled out on the sofa in front of Netflix on a Sunday afternoon in a tweed jacket with a white shirt and braces just didn’t seem feasible… “I just wear that all the time”.
“By the time you’re 35 you’ve made some bizarre decisions and you may have backed yourself into a corner so to speak and this is just where I’ve ended up. It’s coincidental but advantageous that it creates a strong visual identity but that’s because I think I’m a strong individual anyway. (Not like Robbie Williams’ Strong and Gary Barlow’s Stronger type of strong). I always stand out anyway, whatever I’m doing. Even when I was at school I stood out, not because I wanted to stand out – I never wanted to stand out, I just always did because of the things that I was doing were different. It’s good in the way that, I hope to do that with the music and I do it in a physical sense as well”. When it comes to personal identity, Jamie Lenman is certainly in a class of his own – I go on to perhaps mislabel him as “enigmatic” – what I meant to comment on was the strength that his subtle eccentricity is what sets him apart from the crowd in such an effective manner – a notion that is agreeably important.
God Rest You Merry, GentLenman.
To prevent myself from further gushing on about Jamie’s spunky dress sense, I decided to press on about the matter at hand: Jamie Lenman’s Christmas Jamboree. “Why did you pick Guildford for this special, one of a kind show? Why not London or somewhere like that?”. “Well, because I don’t really play my local area. When I’m in a touring cycle, which I suppose I am at the moment, London always gets covered and we go all up and around the country and I never book a local show. I don’t know why actually because venues like the Boileroom and the West End Centre in Aldershot (which is where I cut my teeth really) – they are on the circuit – my people never seem to book me there, and I don’t really question it, I’ve got a lot of other things going on so I just go ‘fine!’ to the dates.” You have to take into account that Mr Lenman is surely a busy guy. Music only takes up a relatively small portion of his time (he goes on in our chat to mention that he works for a design company) and so it’s perfectly understandable that fretting over touring dates and venues would be low on his list of priorities. However, it must be said that it’s a shame. All elements of Lenman’s music, whether it be the garage-y rock/hardcore side or the nostalgic folk ditties, would be perfectly suited for intimate venues of this calibre.
“I just fucking love Christmas. The idea of having a fun little party for everyone where I can get my favourite acts on like Rachel (Rose) and (Rock and Roll) Steve – it just feels like a home thing – Christmas feels like a home thing. I don’t go out to London to have my Christmas dinner, I have it at home and places like the Westy and here … are a bit like an extension of my front room. It feels good, not only to do it in a comfy space but also because I don’t do these on the tours, so it’s nice to be where the home crowd is. It’s like a little treat. I try and keep the ticket prices super low… I mean we’ve got to cover the door costs and whatnot but a fiver is next to nothing.” It’s true, Jamie could have charged a hell of a lot more for this show but the fact that the price was just £5 a ticket really bolstered the claims he had previously made about this being a “fun little party”, a “home thing”. This wasn’t an easy opportunity to make some money – this was genuinely in the spirit of Christmas. “If I could do it for free I would!”.
A few weeks back, to celebrate the release of Lenman’s newest album Devolver, he played another one-off show at St. Pancras Old Church. A colleague and I were lucky enough to head down to the event and, seeing as there were comparisons to be made in the uniqueness of the occasion, I thought I’d ask how he had found playing in a grade II listed church. “I did enjoy it towards the end when it had sort of loosened up. It was weird because the kind of gigs that I like to do, especially if it’s just me and a guitar (which in some ways I prefer to when it’s me and a band) there’s less pressure and there’s less people. I’ve stripped the electric live show back to just two people, but even then, I feel like the less people there are on stage between me and the audience the more intimate a connection we can have and I really think I do prefer doing just acoustic shows.”
“So tonight, what we’ve got is like a family feel and everyone is gonna be crushed in and everyone is gonna have a tinny or two and its Christmas and fuck it and silly songs and stupid outfits. So that’s great and I’m looking forward to it and it’s going to be a very relaxed atmosphere – at St. Pancras I was less relaxed because it was in this slightly austere church, we picked it because it was in quite a pretty location, everyone was seated in pews and it was all dark and it was just me. Also, because I was playing a lot of new material – not only new material but material that isn’t really suited to the acoustic guitar – I was quite tense. It was only when we got to the second half of the evening that I relaxed a bit. It was a bit more like a formal show than I’m used to but it went well and everyone was buzzing and when I went to talk to everyone afterwards they were really happy and I was really pleased that we could reward peoples’ investment”.
Jamie then explained the downside of what was intended to be a kind and rewarding gesture towards some of his more devoted fans. “Everyone was super angry when they didn’t get their tickets – I’m never fucking doing it again! I got absolutely flamed.” We broke it down: “If 1000 people apply for 100 tickets… 900 of you are going to be disappointed”. “It was tough to see – when you try and do something nice and you get a kick in the balls for it”.
Not that he necessarily needed it, I wanted to reassure and credit Jamie for what was undoubtedly a fantastic evening – “For me, the thing that made it so great is that you, as a performer, you’re never just a musician. Your anecdotes, the way that you carry yourself in front of the crowd and the interaction that you have really came through at that show. That intimate vibe carried throughout the whole night – it never really felt like we were sitting there watching a Jamie Lenman show, it felt like an evening in with Jamie Lenman”.
“Would you say that your stage presence is something that’s built up over time?”. “I think it’s developed, to be honest with you (…) and I’ve realised that some of my show does sort of develop into stand-up comedy and I’ve even put a couple of little funny numbers in tonight because I like having fun and telling jokes and whatnot”. The alternative rendition of Once in Royal David’s City was quite the spectacle to behold, there wasn’t a single person in the room who wasn’t cracking up at Jamie’s twisted take on the stale, religious lyrics of the original. “Really, that’s not the show that I intend to go out and do, I don’t think of myself as half musician/half comedian and if I had a choice, I would probably cut that out but it just comes out naturally”. I think I speak for everyone when I say that, aside from the music, it’s the goofy and clumsy jokes that make Lenman’s live shows so fantastically unique and entirely entertaining – long may the comedy continue.
What’s Eating Jamie Lenman?
Drawing on from a question that had actually been asked of Jamie at the Q+A section of the St Pancras show, I decided to probe him about the shift in his music and general attitude from being hot-tempered and venomous to slightly more passive and poised. “Obviously, when I was young I was angry about the same things that most young people are angry about. I was quite angry when I was growing up because of the way I would dress, where I was from (I grew up sort of in Guildford and Camberley, a nice area) and I didn’t realise that until you start listening to rock and roll – at my school I was one of three kids who would listen to rock and roll and it’s different now, I still think you get a bit of aggression for it but at the time that was like being a marked man. You couldn’t go out in public or even in the school with long hair or god forbid, I used to wear nail varnish and makeup (lipstick and eyeshadow) and I would get fucking beaten up and chased out of towns. That, straight away, made me super angry that you weren’t allowed to express yourself.”
“I think rock and roll has got a bigger presence in the market – it was pretty niche in back in the mid-90s and if you were a rocker they would get you for it. That was initially what I was cross about. Then, later on, I got cross about how tough it was in the music industry which still I’m a little bit cross about it because it is tough, but, at the same time I accept it. If you talk about the way that a musician or an artist, in general, would earn their living these days, it’s changed vastly in the 30 years that I’ve been alive. Not to do myself up, I think that someone in my position would probably have been offered some kind of multi-album deal with a big label to be nurtured and whatnot. That option just wasn’t there when my band got together and I think if our band had been around 10 years earlier, we might have had some more options”. The band Lenman refers to is, of course, Reuben. They now sit pretty with a ‘cult’ status, somewhat rendering them heroes of honest to God, home-grown British underground rock and roll. They were a breath of fresh air fuelled with rebellious abandon that popular music, even in this genre, is severely lacking.
“These days, the only thing that really makes me cross is bad art. People taking the piss and making soulless crap – any expression that isn’t really true. Conning people. It’s like selling bad food – it doesn’t nourish anyone and it’s bad for you. But then that’s my own opinion, isn’t it?”. “I understand. The thing that makes the music in this genre is that there is a lot of emotion that fuels it. Your anger, at least there is some emotion behind it as opposed to empty, soulless crap like you said – because then, the music doesn’t mean anything and what’s the point of listening to it?”. “I mean, it serves a (sort of) purpose and there are people who don’t really thrive on music the way that we perhaps do and they just want a sound and that’s fine but it still makes me cross. Its irrational isn’t it, anger, what you gonna do?
This Time, It’s Personal.
Following on from finding out grinds Jamie’s gears, I wanted to explore the emotions and factors that drove the craft behind his new LP – Devolver. “There are a couple of songs that get a little bit snippy about stuff and I try to keep that out of the public really these days. The rest of Devolver was really fuelled by lingering family stuff that I had mainly dealt with on Muscle Memory (the record that was really about my family) but there were some bits left over from those sessions that had come into play like Mississippi, obviously is a little bit about my pops. Also, I think the biggest theme is probably examining what the music means with things like Hardbeat and Devolver – they’re the two linchpins of the record and it’s good that they open and close it. They share the same sort of vibe of thinking about ‘what does the music do?’ and ‘where do I sit in it?’ it only works as a two-way thing with myself as the originator of the content… and the audience who receive it and it sort of bounces back between us. Thinking about music on those terms and where it really stands in the digital era and just my part in it – even though it’s my music, I’m only really a part of that chain, it goes out onto a CD and into your ears and it becomes something else… it takes on this whole new dimension, it keeps changing and growing.”
“I actually wrote the lyrics to a lot of these songs after my Spring tour and the Spring tour was really wild in terms of the audience reaction and talking to the people after the shows and thinking about the effect that the music has on people. So that was a lot of it – thinking about my place in, not only the music but also in the universe. I mean, goddamn, I spend a lot of time thinking these days, I can get a bit deep and I don’t want to sound pretentious so I sing it instead of saying it.” It’s clear that a great deal of thought and deliberation had gone into the making of Devolver and, while it is a fantastic album, there are certain differences from its predecessor. “It’s the same as when the band’s records came out. We had the first album – that’s one flavour of us and we only exist on that one record and then when we had the second one out it felt like more of a substantial thing because people could then say that there was quite a broad breadth of stuff. Then finally in the third one, I felt like this is enough to know us, which is why I didn’t feel that bad about finishing the band at that point because three albums is enough to really get to know an artist, I think.”
“When Muscle Memory came out on its own, I think people were still like ‘what’s this guy doing?’ even though they knew me from Reuben and those are all my records still. It’s good to have Devolver out because a point becomes a line when there’s two of them (God I’m so fucking pretentious!) but you can’t have a line until you’ve got two points. So, Muscle Memory is the one point and Devolver is the other point and you can draw a line and go ‘right, that’s a fucking solid object’. Together with Muscle Memory, it gives people a better idea of what I’m about and that will only increase as I put more records out, so every record that comes out is another shade perspective on my work that I think people can grab hold of. I wouldn’t say that Devolver particularly represents a direction that other things will follow, I think it’s probably closer to what I was doing previously, before Muscle Memory. But then, Muscle Memory was a weird little experiment anyway – I don’t think I’ll make another album that sounds quite like either Muscle Memory or Devolver.”
We go on to have a little back and forth where I clumsily attempt to wax lyrical about Jamie’s music. The bottom line is that there is no other artist in the world with the same level of distinct identity and unrelenting integrity that flows through the very core of Jamie Lenman. The man lives and breathes through his art and the quality of his product is an exact testament to this. It all sounds like serious business, and it is, but in addition to the sharp dressed man with incredibly poignant and (sometimes) venomously spiteful music, is just a regular dude with a fuck ton of passion.
We saw that at the Boileroom. Everyone was having fun – singing and laughing along with Jamie and Katie as they both launched gifts into the merry crowd before jumping into a fantastic duet of Fairytale of New York to cap off a night that had the genuine tingle of Christmas magic in the air.
My time with Jamie had drawn to a close, so I left him with one final question. “When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?”. “I’d like to be remembered as someone who was always honest, both in his personal life and in his creative adventures (he begged us to change this to ‘endeavours’ but I couldn’t bring myself to do it – sorry Jamie) and someone who tried really hard to make good art.”