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Issue 1084

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Feature

Rob Green: Go Green!

Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley
Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley Rob Green photo copyright: Simon Redley

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

I pride myself in discovering new talent and giving new artists a leg up with valuable media exposure early on in their career. Even been known to whisper into the ears of various record label suits and music managers during my 38-year-media career. Cannot stand to see creative talents go to waste.

There’s a decent list of artists and bands that I’ve come across before they were well known, and tipped for big things in print. U2 is one! Level 42 another. From today’s crop; Jess Glynne, Lianne La Havas, Maverick Sabre and Gregory Porter. Right now there’s Birmingham band Broken Witt Rebels, about to break big. Trust me.

Here’s a red hot new one for you. Nottingham-born soul and R&B singer-songwriter Rob Green, with talent as big as the city he comes from. 26-year-old Rob has dropped three EPs so far and made a lot of new friends with his on-trend sound and sublime vocal skills.

The latest is the “Rob Green” EP, four song self-penned gem. “Paradise,” “On Track,” “Blue,” and “Headstrong” - the perfect showcase to Rob’s talents as a singer and gifted songwriter. He’s incorporating gospel and world music influences, heavily into layered, over-dubbed DIY backing vocals and percussive moments, such as on the opener, “Paradise,” which leads us to a Lion King soundtrack vibe.

The production sparse, combining acoustic guitars with programmed electronic backing. The vocals right up front in the mix and crystal clear. His diction clearly benefiting from the decade long training as a young actor and performer from the age of eight. The material is current, commercial, credible and mega ripe for a major publishing and record label deal.

The new single is the final cut on the record, a potential big hit “Headstrong,” due for release in September with a video to accompany it. The strongest and most commercial track of the four. Very much radio ready, a snug fit for Radio 1 & 2 & 6. Once heard, you’ll be humming, whistling and singing the little devil all frigging day! Killer groove and uber-infectious hook. If you know of Bernhoft's work, that cut and Rob's style is not too far away from the fabulous Norwegian's music.

Rob's new EP went straight in at number three on the iTunes R&B/Soul chart and # 31 in the main iTunes chart. He gained critical acclaim for the innovative, almost technically impossible continuous shot music video for “Blue;” the EP's debut single. The video starred Crown of Thorns, Skins and This Is England 90 actor Joe Dempsie. Produced by Lace Market Media, the 12 hour shoot took 43 takes to achieve.

Rob appears at the YNot Festival in Derbyshire today (Friday 29th July) and various gigs around the UK throughout August. The energetic Mr Green currently offering himself up to play in your living room/kitchen/staff room/dining room for free, picking people at random who post a photograph of themselves with his new EP on various social media sites.

So who is Rob Green? Male model looks and stature, not far off a Will Smith look-a-like. He’s six feet and five inches tall. Wears his hair in a striking, high, flat top style, kind of like the singer from US funk band Cameo in the ‘80s. When he walks down the street or into a room, heads turn. That’s before he’s even opened his mouth to sing…..

Rob speaks in a deep baritone boom, and exploits that low register resonance in his vocals, but he can hit sweet falsetto notes too, giving light and shade to his delivery.

He has a likeable, upbeat personality. His mother is from Dominica and his Father originally from Sheffield. Eldest of three; younger bother a professional footballer overseas and sister a fashion designer. Rob went to school in Nottingham and got some stick for what he says was his “perceived sexuality” at the time. Horribly bullied and subjected to daily verbal abuse by other kids, driven to despair and tears with their cruel taunting.

After school, Rob went to University in Leeds. He first applied to do film and TV production at Leeds Metropolitan University, but the course leader suggested he would be far more suited to a new course, Art Event Performance. He was spot on. Rob loved every second of his three year degree course from 2008 to July 2011, and says he uses that degree every day in his chosen career. He started singing and performing when he was eight years old, and joined Nottingham Television Workshop, an actor’s casting group and training ground. Rob was with the NTW for 10 years until he was 18. In secondary school he joined the gospel choir, and was often featured for solos. It was then he realised although he liked acting he did not want to become an actor, but singing and performing was his big cup of tea.

In 2007 he successfully auditioned for a part in a play with music at Nottingham Playhouse, “Misrepresented People.” Inspired by the tragic death of 14-year-old Danielle Beccan who was shot and killed on her way home from the annual Goose Fair in 2004. Victim of Nottingham’s huge gun problem at that time. The play was an awareness of the terrible situation facing Nottingham then. The musical director of the show, Christella Litras and Rob hit it off and became life long friends. When he moved to Leeds, he was delighted to discover Christella lived in that area and joined her Caution Collective group for songwriters and musicians.

The day after graduation in July 2011, Rob signed to Nottingham based independent record label Outlaw, to make his first EP “Parlour Tricks,” released in January 2012. He is co-managed by the label owner Greg Lonsdale. Rob won the Nottingham YCA (Young Creative Award) for music in 2012, winning a cash prize and a recording session to make his live Acoustic Sessions EP with Tom Smith. Also in 2012, Rob got the chance to sing with Motown legend Martha Reeves on stage at Ronnie Scott’s’ club in London, his pal Christella a backing singer for Martha.

BBC DJ Dean Jackson attended the YCA awards and invited Rob to perform on his BBC Introducing show, making Underdog their track of the week. Rob landed many new fans when he appeared with Nottingham’s jazz star Natalie Duncan on her homecoming Nottingham showcase. Impressing the promoter who runs the Splendour Festival in Nottingham, by selling out a venue in just a few weeks, Rob landed a slot at Splendour in 2013. This year he wowed the audience at Cheltenham’s prestigious jazz festival, which Rob names as the best moment of his career so far.

The other half of his management team is London-based Heather Taylor of Redfire Music. But he almost didn’t get to hook up with Heather after a mistake with his contact details! Rob is a huge fan of Gregory Porter, after hearing him on the radio in John Lewis in December 2014. He was so blown away by what he heard, he ‘Shazammed’ the track and has bought Gregory’s releases ever since. When Gregory appeared at Nottingham’s Royal Centre, Rob’s partner bought tickets to go see him. Urged by a friend to take his EP to give to Gregory, convinced he would not get near the star, he reluctantly stuck the EP in his pocket. But after the show he was amazed to see GP signing CDs out front and nervously joined the queue.

He said hello, had a selfie taken with Gregory and asked if he would accept his EP. Gobsmacked when Gregory said: “I knew you were a singer when you joined the queue, No one has hair like that unless they are an artist!” Not expecting Gregory to have time to listen to the EP, he forgot all about it until a call out of the blue from one of Gregory’s management team, Heather Taylor. She told Rob she had been trying to track him down since Gregory played her the EP, and they were both very impressed. But Rob had forgotten to include any contact details with the EP!!!!!

Heather came up to Nottingham to see Rob perform in the City’s library, and was hooked. Rob and Greg went off to London and struck a deal, signing to her as co-manager in May last year.

Rob has been writing poetry since he was 13, and after learning to play guitar on the internet at 18, he turned some into songs. He also learned to play keyboard in 2014. “The family and environment I have been brought up in has been very social, and I have always been interested in people, and the things that make us the same and make us different, and why we think they make us different. I have always loved social commentary and appreciated social commentary in music, so when I started writing my own tracks, that is where I’ve always taken it from.” But the poetry was at first a therapy of sorts, when he was badly bullied at school, the only way to get his thoughts out in the open.

“The biggest thing I had to overcome, was bullying in secondary school which was massive for me. Because of perceived sexuality; people thinking I was gay. I got it every day. Every single day. Girls and boys. It was a Catholic school and was a very good school apart from that.

“But I remember one particular day vividly, before a school trip to a farm in Derbyshire. I was 13. You had to group up for rooms. The bullying was so bad at that point that none of the guys would share a room with me. ‘We don’t want a batty man in our room,’ they said.

“I systematically went round every single group and they shut me out. Nine different groups of boys. I got to the end, and a teacher said, ‘It is OK Rob; you can be in the teachers’ room.’ My Mum watched me go round all the groups and saw me shut out, and could not figure out why. I had kept it a big secret how bad it was at school.

“We got into the car and I broke down crying, all the way home. I got to my room and stayed in there for ages. Dad came upstairs, Mum obviously had told him she did not know what was wrong with me. He knocked, opened the door and came in and I screamed at him to get out. I fell to the floor and balled, and said to myself, ‘I never will cry like this ever again.’

“I never want to be this upset. For 10 years I never cried. My Grandparents died, loads of things mashed me up but I never cried again. I think that one moment scarred me. I felt like I had made a pact with myself not to cry. Not until I came out at 20-years-old was I able to cry.

“Yeah, I was 20 when I came out. My family were not surprised.The truth is; as a teenager you try to change things about yourself to fit in, but you need to embrace who you are and others need to join the party and get on board with it.” Amen to that.

Rob still has the six volumes of poetry he penned from the age of 13, including “Underdog,” which he eventually used word for word to write a song on his debut EP. Proud to discover it became “Track of the Week,” on BBC Introducing. “It was just really nice because it felt like confirmation from the Universe that this was the right direction for me.”

Rob has been in a happy, long term relationship for the last four years with his partner Jordan, who works in marketing. They moved from Nottingham to Derby three years ago. He works one shift a week at a French restaurant, does voiceovers for a radio station and the rest of the time focuses on his music career.
Rob recalls the very first time he sang in public. At a holiday resort in Tenerife on a family holiday when he was eight, at a karaoke talent night. “I went up on stage and sang 'I Believe I Can Fly,' by R Kelly. That moment was a huge deal; a room full of people I didn’t know.

“But the original ‘light bulb moment,’ when I knew I wanted to sing was even before that. I was about six, and my Grandma Eudora put me on her dining table at her house in Nottingham. She said, ‘Go on, sing for me then,’ because Mum had told her I was singing at home all the time. So I sang for her and the family and I loved the applause.”

His biggest inspiration is R&B and neo-soul star India Arie. “She’s very personal with her lyrics from her own experiences, but it seems that she’s always trying to kind of put it in the context of the wider world. As a 13-year-old, I had a lot going on in my head. I couldn’t really place myself in a bigger picture and I felt very alone, and I tried very hard to be kind of normal…” Rob laughs loudly at that thought of ‘normal.’ “But the problem is; most teenagers can relate to the idea of trying to change those fundamental parts of our personality to be more invisible or to stand out less. I think India Arie made me realise that those experiences and those things I had in my head; the only way I could really address them was by getting them out there. So I started writing poetry. Because I couldn’t play an instrument, I couldn’t turn them into songs then. But I kept those poems to myself – I wrote them for me.”

In his song writing today, Rob has one focus: “I am very much about, ‘As real as we can get it.’ The truth is the most important thing. Always.” On his latest EP, the track “Blue,” is as brutally autobiographical as it gets. The story of a break-up from some years ago and an episode of his life he had buried, but was still raw as he found out when singing the song at his two sold out EP launch gigs in Leeds and Nottingham. The emotion too much and causing him to break down and cry mid song.

The new EP was recorded between September last year and January this year, in a DIY studio in the attic of a former church in Bradford, co-produced by Christella Litras and Jonnie Khan. Rob taught song writing to students in exchange for access to the place. They used blankets for soundproofing, the room dotted with heaters to combat the cold. The end result is major label, pro quality and THAT voice grabs the attention and holds it across all four cuts.

He had never been inside a studio before his first EP sessions for his debut, "Parlour Tricks." His second EP, "Learn To Fly" was a collection of live stuff. So the "Rob Green" EP, what makes it different to previous releases? “It is a lot more considered and matured as a songwriter. The first time I am doing everything myself. Everything you hear; the backing vocals, the beat boxing, rhythms on guitar, the lead vocal, it is all me. It’s soul, it’s R&B and an amalgamation all of my influences.” His main influences include India Irie, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, Jack Garratt, Nat King Cole. The latter was the artist Rob’s Mum played to Rob to show him his voice breaking at 13 wasn’t this horrible scary thing. “I cried and said I cannot sing any more when my voice broke.” Favourite current songwriter: Jamie Woon. Dream collaborations: Whitney Houston and Lianne La Havas. Rob was invited to be part of a BBC Introducing Masterclass, hosted by Charlie Sloth, Wretch 32 and Devlin.

So what does the current record say about Rob? “That you have to just keep going around and around until you get to paradise, which is how I feel, You just have to stop making excuses, keep doing it, keep trying and eventually it will lead somewhere. We are not supposed to have all the answers, just got to keep on…..”

Has he set out to be famous? “No. Being famous is very low on my priority list. The most important thing is to be an artist for as long as possible. I am always pushing myself hard and taking myself out my comfort zone more and more.

“With this EP it was to take myself to my limit, prove to myself you don’t need a label and loads of money; you just need the right attitude and to go for it. I don’t mind if I am not big. If I can live off of my music and have a loyal fanbase, I will be happy.”

“Singing is like my daily bread. I sing every day, all day and always have. Now I have an excuse to do it! Songwriting started off as an outlet for my private thoughts and emotions, now it is an opportunity to get what I want to say out there. It is my voice.” What a voice!

• Sincere thanks to Hockley Arts Club, Nottingham for kindly loaning us their venue for the Rob Green interview and photo shoot.

All photos copyright: Simon Redley
Words SIMON REDLEY

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