“I was expecting to be beaten with a bat!” – Jamie Lenman sits down with us (on an albeit soggy haystack) to discuss all things 2000trees.
Having had the pleasure of attending 2000trees for the past 3 years, a few things have struck me as being important at the festival: the sense of community, the importance of supporting incredible, up-and-coming music and the cult-like following of Jamie Lenman. The man is a legend of the scene and the one place that showcases this more than anywhere else in the world is this special collection of fields in Cheltenham. Luckily for myself, and my colleague Aaron Jackson (Editor @ WaveByte), we had a chance to sit and have a chat with the main man after his 2018 2000trees set.
Lenman, who has played both electric and acoustic sets over the past few years, was billed this year as a Forest Session artist. Naturally, he was elated that so many people had chosen to spend their afternoon having a little sing-a-long under the dappled shade of the Forest Stage. Sporting a three-piece suit, complete with a chain and trilby hat, Jamie Lenman strode through the trees and burst onto the small wooden hut-like stage. He was, perhaps expectedly, greeted with incredible support from a rabble of festival goers who spanned in age from parents to 15-year-old children as everyone shuffled about to get a good view of the main attraction. After raising his hand to the audience, the performance began with an acoustic rendition of Devolver single, All Of England Is a City. The riff of this song jingled gently through the trees as Lenman began to serenade the audience. After a brief greeting, he fell straight into I Ain’t Your Boy, a track from the softer side of Muscle Memory and one that felt built for this setting. From here, the choir began to kick into life and helped him harmonise the chorus. Do you prefer playing acoustic? “I wouldn’t say I prefer it, I do love it, I do love the intimacy. Maybe, there is a little less pressure because although I only have Daniel on the drums now, I still have to portion some of my brain to listening to him. I am worrying about where he is, but if it’s just me I can just concentrate a bit more… I did acoustic this year because I did electric last year”. As his second song came to a close, the electricity that peaked his smile made it clear to see that his relationship with playing music at this festival was a special one.
The truth is, Lenman’s performance this year was not stapled on from the getgo. The organisers of the festival had approached him to see if he wanted to play, however, the answer they received was not one they were expecting. “Nah”, Lenman humorously rebutted “I’ve done it too many times in a row… I didn’t want it to be a boring thing”. At this moment, the line-up risked being incomplete. Not being able to set aside some time in a 2000trees weekend to see Lenman perform, whatever form of set, would have felt unnatural. He continued to explain that “they called [him] up the second time” and asked “look, you can come and do whatever you want… You wanna play the banjo? A harp? A harmonica?… then fine”. There was something captivating about the way he explained this story to us as if he had a revelation. “Then I realised that they just wanted me to come and hang out”, his face lit up with warmth, “which was nice of them”. Of course, his explanation of this to the Friday crowd in the forest was a little more comedic than the one he shared with us on the haystack, placing pauses and “come on” cries from the organisers within his speech with incredible aplomb. As always, his presence was professional and almost felt rehearsed, however, I can confirm that after meeting him that it is just how he carries himself.
“They have always had their arms stretched out towards me, and I have always been like ok?” – he accompanies this with a bemused look – “because it is weird because they don’t really know me. They got to know me because my band cancelled… it was a big deal to have your headliner pull out at such a short notice… and so for them to turn around and turn it into smiles and hugs, I was a bit like WHAT?!” – again, his face pictures confusion – “I was expecting to be beaten with a bat. Every time I come I get to know them more, it is like coming to a friend’s house”. It is no secret that Reuben, the band in which Lenman burst onto the scene, had a tricky and short-lived relationship with the festival. Pulling out as headliners of only the second 2000trees, Lenman’s scepticism around returning to the festival seems justifiable. However, after speaking to him and understanding how homely the organisers try to make the festival for both the artists and festival-goers, it is no surprise that they welcomed him back so openly.
Lenman opted to play an acoustic rendition of Reuben hit Freddy Kreuger in his session. Received incredibly by the crowd, the “this girl I am so sick of” hook echoed throughout the forest and stuck with me for hours after his performance. It was truly a treat. His quick dismissal of the song being from his “shit” band was enough personal reflection as he stumbled into Friends in Low Places. This song was one of the highlights of the festival for me. With it being written for a collaborative album, in support of individuals that suffer from Crohn’s disease, it was great to hear a track performed so tightly which has good intentions at its core. This was another ditty that was drilled into my head for hours after the set. What made Lenman’s 2016 acoustic set so special, was the choice he made to only play covers. He addressed this set with a humorous attempt at covering All Apologies by Nirvana again this year but quickly dismissed it as he decided to opt for a slightly different number. Labi Siffre’s It Must Be Love is a timeless classic, and Lenman’s unique delivery was again adored by the crowd. Similarly, Little Lives was a track that we had the pleasure of catching a few years back, where Lenman was joined by Andrew Groves of Arcane Roots for a duet. In the forest this year, Lenman brought up his good friend Terry Abbott to help him deliver the track. Albeit not as vocally impressive as Groves, this song was still a great listen. Body Popping and Mississippi, both highlights of 2017’s Devolver, were also solid acoustic offerings.
The setlist also played host to some of his newer material. “I was going to do the heavy one… I contemplated it but I need my voice”. Naturally, we were excited that the prospect of playing the latest single Long Gone had even gone through Lenman’s mind. The new double A-side, how has that gone down? “It got people talking about the music going into the summer… [it was] a lot of work, feels a like a lot of work… the two videos and the art prints, it almost feels like an album. The reaction has been great.” Addressing his latest release Long Gone / Irrelevant, Lenman seemed both relieved and elated by the response it had received. With Long Gone featuring the heavier, powerful vocals of Employed to Serve vocalist Justine Jones and Irrelevant, a reworking off Devolver with a little electric flavour added by the Arcane Roots frontman, Lenman was shocked by the reception. “Annie Mac played the heavy one! We thought that Danny (Daniel P Carter of the Radio 1 Rock Show) will play the rock one and Annie would play the bit-bop-one. But Annie played the hard one, like twice on Tuesday night Radio 1! It just goes to show that they lead with their hearts, they play music they genuinely like.”
This led us to question the importance of relevancy and legacy, and how Lenman views himself after releasing a track titled Irrelevant. “If you come somewhere like 2000trees, it happens to a lot of musicians in raised positions. You walk around here everyone constantly comes up to you, shaking your hand and saying. ‘the set, it was great’. That is so nice to hear, but if you are not careful you can get a bit carried away with thinking ‘I am a big guy with big ideas and look, everyone loves me’. You gotta make so sure that you don’t let it affect the art you are making or the person you are”. He continued, “so, every now and then, I might start to get a little effusive and get a bit of a big head… be like ‘hey don’t you know who I am?’ The chuckle that we shared after this statement only heightened my suspicion that Lenman was far from fitting the Rock-diva stereotype some would expect. In reality, he isn’t a man to take himself too seriously. He went on to explain that “[he] was in a shit band ten years ago” and that everything is “very temporary”. The Reuben track, A Short History of Nearly Everything – aptly, the last full-album track that the band were to release – discusses the need “to cope with your ego and [understand that] your problems are very tiny. The world isn’t going to end and you have to find security in that. The world has rolled on for millions of years and will roll on for millions more. How does the notion of legacy play into it? “If we are going to get philosophical then we all wanna leave something behind and no doubt making art is part of that… it is to communicate with people while you’re here and you do hope when you have shuffled off of the mortal coil that little echo of you will be left behind.” After a brief moment of reflection, Lenman jumped back into the conversation. “GOD! I sound so pretentious, but I am trying to give you honest answers!” After all bursting into laughter once more, he concluded, “I just hope that somewhere, someone sings one of my songs when I have died.” At least at your funeral, right? “AT LEAST!”
After a brief discussion about the legacy of WaveByte, we left the main man to it. To spare our blushes, I will move back to the matter at hand. Mr Lenman brought his performance to a close with the announcement that he had written a song, especially for the festival. Aptly titled, 2000trees, was to be the final showing from Lenman for the day. Naturally, the crowd was sent into a frenzy by the prospect of being involved in a moment of trees history. Off he set, crooning through a verse that depicted his love for the festival and into a chorus that was undeniably infectious. “2000trees, 2000trees, never have I seen so many trees as these”, as a hook, was eaten up by the hoards of spectators and chorally they helped bring the song to its finale. At the end of Friday at 2000trees, I felt incredibly humbled. The music, as always, had been of the highest order, but it was having the chance to speak to a true legend of the alternative music scene that had left me stunned. The prospect of catching Jamie Lenman at any of his shows, and listening to whatever he may release next is exciting, but most importantly getting a glimpse into how he maintains being a true gentleman, in a world where moments like playing at 2000trees can be too self-indulgent, was truly special.
You can listen to our full interview here:
A big thank you to Jamie Lenman for his time and Matt Hughes of Devil PR for making this interview possible.