interviews

The Music Week Interview: Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama is on a mission to change the music business for good, and the next phase of her masterplan is upon us. Already a pandemic breakout star and industry innovator, she is aiming for new heights with bombastic second ...

The Aftershow: Joan Armatrading

Having devoted her life to music from childhood, trailblazing singer and songwriter Joan Armatrading is celebrating 50 years since the release of her debut album Whatever’s For Us. Here, she reminisces about sticking to her guns under record label pressure at the start of her career, receiving an audience with Nelson Mandela and appearing in The Beano… I fell in love with music when I was 12 or 13… “My dad had a guitar and I used to love how he played Blue Moon. But he wouldn’t let me touch his guitar and would hide it so I couldn’t get to it if he wasn’t playing it. That made me want to play the guitar, but the thing that really started me off was when my mum bought a piano, just as a piece of furniture for the front room. And literally, as the piano arrived, I started writing songs. Then I got my guitar. I found it in a pawn shop for £3 and my mum said, ‘If I swap these two old prams for it, you can have it’ so that’s how I got my first guitar – and I still have it.” My record label wanted me to change my name and the way I dressed… “It was a very short conversation because the request was followed by ‘no’ and there was nothing else to say. And my name is one of the best names ever, so why am I going to change it? As for the dress code, I need to be me and to be comfortable.” I always say I was born to write… “When I started, there wasn’t anybody else for me to look at and say, ‘Oh, that is how they’re doing it’ in terms of a Black person, or even in terms of a woman. So I was just doing what I did in a very natural way. Did I experience racism in the music industry? I didn’t notice anything was there. Maybe it was, but I was just busy doing my thing. I was just getting on with it really. I can’t elaborate any more than that. I was writing how I wanted to write and being who I am.” For years, I wore my house key around my neck… “I started wearing the key when I was little, because I’d have to let myself in when I came home from school and I just got used to it. I decided to stop wearing it after I made an album called The Key in 1983. I think I was 32 at that point!” Being asked to share a stage with Bob Dylan was a big compliment…  “He obviously was and is still an incredibly famous person. It was in 1978 [at Blackbushe Aerodome] and I was still a young artist, obviously not as well known as Bob, but he liked my music. Of all the people who played that concert – myself, Eric Clapton, Graham Parker and [the band] Lake – I was the only girl. He chose that line-up, that was his gig and so I was very excited to be asked by him. He’s a phenomenal songwriter and just seemed like a really nice guy. I’ve met some great people through what I do.” I first met Nelson Mandela while touring South Africa… “I went to his house in 1995 and the whole atmosphere was full of love from all the people who worked for him. I thought there’d be a whole stack of other [guests] there, but it was just the two of us. He said, ‘Would you like to go into the garden?’ And I thought, ‘OK, that must be where everybody else is.’ But when we got to the garden it was still just us. It was amazing to meet him on my own, he was an incredible man. I’ve met some of the other freedom fighters and they are all very special people. They knew what they had to do to free a lot of people and in The Messenger, I sing about that. I invited The Kingdom Choir to record it with me and also to perform it when I sang it for Mr Mandela [at The London School Of Economics And Political Science in 2000]. He wasn’t that strong on his legs, but he danced the whole of the song and then gave me this massive hug at the end.” One of my biggest thrills was starring in The Beano… “I’ve been reading comics since I was a little girl. I would talk about it when I did interviews and there was one article where I was surrounded by comics. The Beano guys heard about it and I was invited up to [publisher] DC Thomson to meet them. The next thing I knew I was actually in the comic on the Tom, Dick & Sally page, which was wonderful! Tom, Dick and Sally said, ‘There’s a Joan Armatrading concert on the radio just about to start’, and then Sally tries to persuade her brothers that she knows me. They don’t believe her and it ends up with me giving Sally a slap-up meal while the brothers look on through the window enviously. It’s definitely a highlight. In fact, I’m looking at it this very minute, it’s up on my wall.” 

Rising Star: Meet Chess Club Records marketing manager Jade Johnston

In the new edition of Rising Star, Music Week meets Jade Johnston, who realised she wanted a career in live music after a chance meeting in Ibiza. Now, she's working as a marketing manager at Chess Club Records. Here's her music industry story... Where did your journey in the music business begin? “In my mid-teens I was convinced I wanted to be a music journalist, and even did work experience at Kerrang!, but the dream didn’t stick. It wasn’t until I was 18 and living in Ibiza that I had my lightbulb moment, after meeting a girl who was working as an event manager at Ibiza Rocks. It made me realise that there were jobs where I could get paid to be around live music. After getting back to the UK, I did an apprenticeship assisting at Believe’s in-house label and then moved to AWAL, working in community support and later artist and label development. Now, I have my dream job at Chess Club working on the coolest artists.” Why is Chess Club your dream place to work? “The label’s whole ethos is to find and sign artists before they’ve even started releasing music and to develop them through their entire career. Working with artists so early on, you witness their confidence grow as their artistry develops. It makes the job so much more gratifying, especially when they start getting the attention they deserve. I’ve also never had so much access to artists, we talk to them every single day. It makes marketing so much easier because you know, understand and care about the human behind the art. Recently, L’Objectif were added to the BBC Radio 6 Music playlist for the first time and just knowing how over the moon and grateful the boys are makes it all worth it. They received the news the day after their Year 13 prom too.”  Did you have any preconceptions of what the industry would be like? “I thought that there would be fewer emails! And that, somehow, just by working in music, the degrees of separation between me and Taylor Swift would instantly disintegrate and we’d become besties, which I’m still waiting for.” There’s an incredible feeling of community in the indie sector, even if we’re competitors Jade Johnston How does a typical day unfold for you?  “A core part of my day-to-day is overseeing label operations, ensuring our physical records and digital products are getting out the door on time. I’m across all areas of artist marketing; audience development, managing global PR teams, crafting social plans and content ideas, refining our digital ad strategies, sourcing creatives for videos and photo shoots, creating social assets, planning events, pitching artists for all kinds of opportunities... and more! ‘That’s not my job’ isn’t a phrase we use – we all get stuck in. No day is the same, you are always learning and your hard work is so tangible. Working in the independent sector is so special because there’s an incredible feeling of community, even if we’re competitors. There’s a sense that we’re all here together doing it for the love of music and having fun. There are loads of pints, too!” What do you think you’ve brought to Chess Club so far? “Banter and TikToks! But also, training up our awesome label assistant Liv White, who is now such an important part of the team. I’m super-proud to have led projects to put our catalogue on Bandcamp for the first time ever and launching our D2C store. Landing Sinead O’Brien a spot on Later... With Jools Holland before her debut album and without a TV plugger, just by pitching ourselves as an in-house team, was an amazing moment and we all screamed. Bringing my creativity, experience and the understanding that comes with being a super-fan to each release and seeing it pay off has been wicked.”  Finally, what’s your ultimate career goal? “To continue to help artists express themselves, find new audiences and make a living through their art. To leave a trail of happy, successful artists in my wake will be awesome. Also, with Will’s (Street, co-founder) approval, to sign Taylor Swift!” JADE'S RECOMMENDED TRACK: 

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