I arrive at the famous O2 Arena way earlier than I’d expected – around 3 hours before the music kicked off. The ease of Monday lunchtime London public traffic helping me out I guess. After the obvious choice of a Nandos, I set up my wi-fi and plugged myself into some music – keeping my nerves down, a little. The cold didn’t help much at all.
I’d been given the opportunity to go to a few days of the December Sessions, and then review and interview the acts I saw for Yahoo Omg! Held over 20 nights and hosting 100 sets from new and up-and-coming bands and artists, O2’s December Sessions seems a perfect chance and opportunity to gain some more fans and just have the experience of playing in the O2 Arena – on a specially set up stage which is open to the walkers by.
After wandering around the arena for a while, I settled down in a bench opposite the stage, still plugged in and tweeting. Around half 3 I spot Andrew Balkwill – the opening act, walking around like I had done an hour earlier, having a look at the music photography on show, and setting up the on stage instruments along with Alex Yeoman (Bass), and Reuben Humphries (Drums). Dressed in a slim-fitting suit, Andrew looked quite calm despite being only half an hour away from playing, to what I have to admit, was a fairly quiet arena. The 4pm set time grew ever closer, and Andrew still seemed relaxed; hands in pockets as his band warmed up. Opposite of how I was feeling – seemed silly really, all I was going to do was review and interview him. He was the one actually performing.
But Andrew explained to me, “I don’t really get nervous, I’m more excited about playing. His first few gigs were “nerve-wracking”, but then went on to explain, “you do so many gigs, and everything can go wrong, so you learn how to deal with the things that go wrong. We’ve had power going off at a gig before. My keyboard actually stopped the other day, which was annoying.” It seemed the main thing bothering him was the cold chill flowing through the O2, “It’s very cold!” Both of us laugh as we both know how freezing it was ‘inside’. “My fingers took a bit of time to warm up!” But luckily, “after the second song, they were back to how they should be.”
Andrew’s set kicked off at around half 4 in the end, and saw a gradual increase in crowd size throughout the duration of the talent-filled performance. I was unsure what to expect, with it being a Monday afternoon, it’s hardly a Friday or Saturday night time slot. “When I first got here, it was empty.” (He should have tried it at 1pm – I was practically only one there!), “And I was thinking, ‘are we just going to play to a few chairs in the corner, or?’ But it did fill up quite well in the end – there was quite a few people who came and listened.”
When asked about where December Sessions rated in his overall gig history, he responded, “Playing at the O2 is always going to be quite a good thing to have on your gig list! But I recently supported Charlie Simpson on tour, which was really cool! It’s good because you’re playing quite big venues, and to a good crowd of people – it’s a good way to get your music out there! But yeah, they’re [December Sessions] pretty high up!”
“I’ve played for a very long time.” He says when I ask him about his piano skills. If you haven’t heard Andrew’s music, you wont know how talented he is on keyboard, truly magical! “Someone asked me the other day, ‘When did you decide to become a musician?’, and I was like, ‘I never really decided’ – it’s just one of those things I just did, I sort of just grew into being a musician.”
I gave him a question on his writing style after that. “The piano comes first. Some songs go different ways, but normally I just sit there and play a load of chords. It’s like, if you’ve had a bad day, or a good day, and you’re just chatting to your friend, and telling them what you did. It’s almost like that, but you’re just playing the piano, playing these chords. And if you’re in a happy mood, you’re gonna play happy songs. Sad mood, sad songs. You’re just kind of singing about stuff that’s been happening.”
“I love to work with hooks!” Which is evident from witnessing his set earlier, great hook, after great hook! “I normally sing a load of rubbish. Terrible. I’ll never record it. But I can get like a little hook, and go, ‘that’s a great song!’ then you can start on that.”
On any tips for other new music to listen out for, he gave me the name of Lianne La Havas. A female vocalist who recently appeared on Jools Holland, and who had, just that day, been announced on the BBC’s Sound of 2012 Longlist! So, as well as Andrew, look out for her too!
Dream collaboration. A fairly standard interview question, but with a great answer. “Jack White!” Obviously from the White Stripes. “His sound’s so raw and just cool. And he does piano as well, so it wouldn’t sound too strange.”
On his magnificent video for his single, ‘Bad Bad Luck’, he says, “I was trying to think of ideas, I wanted to make it quite quirky. We were on a bit of a budget, we didn’t have £100,000 to splash out on a video. So we tried to come up with a creative idea. I love Radiohead’s videos, just stuff that’s more about the idea. Originally it was going to be people getting into the cab and singing the song – I wasn’t going to even be in the video. But then we thought it would be a good idea if I was in the cab, and had different people getting in and out.” If you haven’t seen the video, why not watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9wsds8GkhQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player
I also wanted to find out how getting the chance to perform at December Sessions comes about for the artists playing over the next 3 weeks or so. From Andrew’s answer, I doubt it’s the same route to the O2 for everyone else. “It’s really weird. Music’s like a small world. I was playing in Scotland doing the support for Charlie [Simpson], and one of the sound guys was like, ‘I really liked your set, we’ve got this gig at the O2’, and I was like, ‘wow, oh my god, the O2?’ So we swapped numbers, and then I got a call from the promoter, and it just all went ahead.”
“I looked at the line-up and there’s quite a lot of people in bands that I know”, he says after telling me he’s staying to see one of his mates playing soon. “So, yeah, it’s a small world!”
I was also interested in his views on the ‘X-Factor road to stardom’ – whether he thought it had longevity. “Well anything you can do to get noticed, for people to see you, is good. I think the only problem with X-Factor is because that’s how people notice you. Next year, you’re yesterdays news. I think if you actually go out and gig, you build up a fan-base, and chat to the people coming down and get to know them – they’re the ones that will actually support you.”
Finally, the old ‘hopes for the future’ question. “The plan is to record an album probably late this month or early January. We’re going to do another single, and another video. But off the back of that do a whole album as well.” So, for live performances? “The plan is, in January, to get on another tour, to support another act in the UK. Then maybe by March, get the album finished, and start promoting like crazy! Well, yeah, that’s the plan.”
Andrew’s set was brilliant, and I hope you can tell how nice a guy he is from this interview. ‘Bad Bad Luck’ is available on iTunes, as well as a small album on his Facebook Page’s Music Tab. The ‘Bad Bad Luck’ video, along with other videos, are up on YouTube – and they’re well worth a look.
(yes, this was posted about 2/3 weeks ago, but yeah)