Singing along to Squeeze at the top of my voice certainly wasn't a new experience, but as the music fades and the curtains part I take a deep breath before climbing the stairs and stepping on stage in front of four hundred people. Somehow, I've managed to convert the nerves into adrenaline and as I squint in the spotlight and reach out for the microphone, I feel confident that the first night of my debut UK headline tour will be a success.
It seems fitting that the tour should start in Sheffield. Just under thirty miles from my front door, it was a city that had long entertained my musical desires and often inspired me to take things to the next step. My first ever gig was at the Sheffield Octagon. The first time I ever appeared on stage in any way, shape or form was at Sheffield's secret underground basement Club 60.
I could go on, but the general gist of what I'm saying is that Sheffield plays just as important a role as Wakefield in developing the young man that now fronts Skint & Demoralised. It's also where the other half of the project, MiNI dOG, is based.
So where did Skint & Demoralised start? Well, it might not sound credible or cool but it was in fact on a bench in Blackpool. Then a little bit in Starbucks, followed by a gay B&B called Hotel Zeus. But there's no need to go into that one. I randomly scrawled a short spoken word piece that described my surroundings and over the next few weeks, passing time developed into passionate hobby.
Before long I'd taken my poetry from the page to the stage and Skint & Demoralised was the name of a young performance poet that took inspiration from the likes of John Cooper Clarke and Linton Kwesi Johnson. The name borrowed a certain brand of cynicism masked with tongue-in-cheek humour that had been mastered by Clarke himself. He'd quickly become one of my idols.
Rough recordings of the spoken word pieces were uploaded onto a makeshift MySpace Music site and in May 2007 they were chopped, arranged and carefully placed over some dance/electro instrumentals by Sheffield-based producer MiNI dOG. Over the summer, poems became songs and solo artist became duo.
The reason that I told you the origins of the band are because I wanted to emphasise that the roots lay heavily in a blend of storytelling, stand-up and poetry. It was by no means whatsoever a one-man mission to headline Glastonbury and spend months on end in a splitter-van. That was never even considered to be a possibility!
I've always loved the element of storytelling in lyrics and the biggest complement that someone could ever pay me is by telling me that they can relate to the things that I'm writing. Every lyric is a true story. Every emotion in every anecdote is real and for me that's the only option. According to Jarvis Cocker, this is the golden rule for lyricists and one that I have eagerly subscribed to since day one.
The first album that I ever bought independently was 'The Marshall Mathers LP' by Eminem. It completely changed by life. The Streets released 'Original Pirate Material' which then introduced me to the likes of The Jam and Squeeze. My dad listened to Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music and the icing on the cake was 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' by Arctic Monkeys. I took great pleasure in delving into the depths of the classic British storyteller.
Don't get me wrong, I later discovered the likes of the legendary Bob Dylan from over the pond, but at this stage it was home-grown talent that really inspired me to start writing things myself. Listening to these artists often felt like a mate was telling you a story in the pub. So I was quite pleased when Arena magazine described me as 'the musical equivalent of going to the pub' in a recent article.
It's been a rollercoaster ride so far for Skint & Demoralised. We've been from Barnsley to Brooklyn, from Manchester to Manhattan. Major highs and manic lows is a phrase deemed so accurate that it's written on the skin of our bass drum. Over the next few days and weeks, I'll be combining stories from the debut tour and also explaining what Skint & Demoralised is all about; what it means to us and what we hope it'll mean to you.
Below I've embedded the video for our current single, which is out on 2nd March. It's called 'This Song Is Definitely Not About You' and is a perfect example of how we try and blend spoken word narratives with Northern Soul-inspired grooves and catchy hooks. I'm going to run across the road and grab some lunch before we set-off for Glasgow. Speak soon…