Drawing inspiration from the likes of Freddie Mercury, Kate Bush, Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson and Father John Misty, London-based singer/songwriter Nick Stephenson has played at Glastonbury Festival, The Isle of Wight Festival and Secret Garden Party.
His single One Thing was produced by Steve Rodford of The Zombies, and reached the finals of the National Songwriting Competition 2015, and he was invited to perform it live on BBC Radio London. He has also recorded his song Mountain at Air Studios with Tony Newton, sound engineer to Iron Maiden.
Nick Stephenson currently gigs across the country (and beyond), armed with a catalogue of 60 original songs and around 200 covers. The impressive list of venues he’s played includes Clapham Grand, The Borderline and Alban Arena – where his previous band Nick and the Sun Machine were the official support act of alternative rock band Toploader. He has supported, Wild Willy Barrett, Toyah Willcox, The Staves and Ade Edmondson and appeared on BBC 6 Music‘s ‘Memory Tapes’ with Lauren Laverne.
He traces his inclination towards music and performance back to the age of 5, when he remembers hearing The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night for the first time on the way to the hospital to have his tonsils removed. The Beatles were the first musicians to truly influence him, particularly Paul McCartney.
Nowadays he lists his influences as including; Scott Walker (for his uncompromising vision, the astonishing imagery in his lyrics and unique, daring vocal delivery); Elvis Costello (for his edgy, bloody-minded self-belief, his controlled and thrilling onslaught of aggression and the ambitious arrangements of much of his material); and Kate Bush (for her sheer originality and depth of emotion, as well as the grace and humanity in her voice and songs). Another of Nick’s obvious influences is songwriter, singer and guitarist Richard Thompson, as he connects with the sly, biting and often hilarious wit of his words (such as in End of the Rainbow, Stony Ground) and his incredible storytelling and guitar playing (Vincent Black Lightening 1952, Beeswing).
5 minutes with Nick Stephenson…
When did you learn to play guitar?
When I was 6 or 7 years old, my uncle gave me a battered old guitar. The first night it was sat there in my room I couldn’t sleep, I was so excited. I couldn’t play it back then but I knew how important it would be in my life. At age 7 I was in the school library and saw the older kids having guitar lessons. I knew I was too young but I expressed an interest immediately and my dad insisted that my school allow me to learn. He was great like that!
When did you write your first song?
I wrote my first full song while I was still at school, age 15 (1999) and it’s called ‘Sitting in the rain’. I was sat at home just mucking around with a simple guitar motif and decided it sounded a bit like rainfall so I wrote the lyrics and melody to suit the feel of the music. Despite a few naive lyrics, I still play it Live now.
How have you grown/progressed since then?
I’ve had a hell of a lot more life experience! Musically and lyrically I’ve experimented with many different song-writing styles over the years. In my late teens and early to mid 20’s it was all quite pastoral, folky and romantic with songs like ‘Forest song’, ‘Better than any drug’ and ‘Poor little boy’. Then I think something clicked one day (in my late 20’s) and I wanted to be edgier and challenge myself with more abstract writing styles so this resulted in the more unusual compositions like ‘Dream fly’, ‘Murderous food incident’ ‘Winters blazes’ and ‘Fast learner’. More recently my songs seem to have become a lot more concise, defiant and aggressive with very direct lyrics and structures (less painterly and dream like) with songs like ‘One thing’, ‘Some man’s advice’, ‘Banter and smoke’ and ‘Small man’.
I love the process of writing now. It used to scare me and I found this very stifling but one day I just relaxed. It’s a really stimulating personal journey now as opposed a strained one. I find anger, personal defiance and love are my more recent driving forces when writing songs.
What are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of my most recent songs! Songs like ‘One thing‘, ‘Banter and smoke‘, ‘Small man‘, ‘Shaking rain‘ and many more – They are all unrecorded and I want to ensure they get some excellent professional treatment. They document a very important part of my life where I feel I have grown up a lot and learnt from some mistakes I made. It’s a purging of demons and can turn a negative experience into something positive.
Oh, and I played my absolute favourite gig in 2014 with my previous band Nick and The Sun Machine at The Isle of Wight festival – a gig I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time! We also won a competition in 2012 to record our single Mountain at Air Studios with Tony Newton of Voodoo Six/Iron Maiden!
What do you want from it all?
I want to continue to be a creative force (in my mind!) and be a successful performer/songwriter/musician on my own terms. Just to keep making interesting music and continue doing it for a living.
I want my music to connect me with the right kind of people that understand what I’m trying to express but also the kind of people I can learn from. I crave this so I can better myself as an artist and be a more rounded individual.
I’m all about sticking to my guns and doing things my way. To write and perform great songs (solo or with a band) I do this mostly to please myself. If I don’t like it, no one else will! But if people connect with it, that’s great.
I stand for quality, honesty and innovation. I am firmly AGAINST mediocrity especially in mainstream music. I believe this should always be challenged with better music!