The event (February 6) saw Island and mainland musicians and performers coming together to celebrate John’s life and raise money for charity. John died in September last year, following a short illness.
Sean and his sister, Caroline, unveiled the plaque, which is situated in the main foyer and was funded by Isle of Wight Radio in collaboration with Shanklin Theatre, ahead of the show.
Sean said: “Dad was a great supporter of local entertainment, and the theatre played a huge part in his life, so it was really important to hold the event in Shanklin. I’d like to thank Isle of Wight Radio and the theatre for donating the plaque. Now, whenever there’s a show at the venue, dad will always be there and people can share their memories of him when they’re going to the theatre.”
The tribute concert, which was hosted by Sean, was a huge success, with at least £1500 raised for the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital, Newport.
The line-up also included several local musicians and performers who were friends of John’s and whom he’d supported, including Bobby I Can Fly, Amy Bird and Andy Strickland.
“Music is my passion, and it was so important to my dad – he liked a wide range of styles – so I felt the best way to pay tribute to him was to hold a celebratory night with an eclectic selection of sounds – from ‘60s ballads to Americana, pop and rock. While I was organising and compering the show, I kept thinking to myself, ‘dad would’ve loved this’”, said Sean.
The artists who appeared at the gig were: My Darling Clementine, Matt James, Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Brian Sharpe (The Cherokees) and Keith Roberts (Blue Moon), Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird and Bob and Bertie Everson.Singer-songwriter, Matt Hill, was unable to appear, due to ill health, but he recorded a video of himself singing a song by one of John’s favourite artists, Matt Monro. You can watch it here.
Matt James, former drummer with ’90s anthemic indie-rockers Gene, has launched a solo career, and in February this year he will be playing his biggest show yet – a charity gig at Shanklin Theatre on the Isle of Wight, as part of a tribute night to my dad, show business journalist, John Hannam, who died in September last year.
In an exclusive interview, he tells me what it’s like to be starting out on his own, teases his debut solo album, which is due out in July and was produced by Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths, Morrissey, The Cranberries, The Pretenders, The Rails) and explains why he’s excited about visiting the Isle of Wight for the first time…
“I suppose that means there’ll be no returning hero moment with the Islanders lining the streets and waving palms,” he muses. “That’s what happens when I go to Guernsey and Sark…”
Hi Matt. How’s it going?
Matt James: It’s going great currently, thanks. I’ve been lucky enough to be pretty healthy the past couple of years, when so many people haven’t, or have been affected in other ways. I moved from London to the country in 2015, which may have had something to do with it…
Thanks for agreeing to play my dad’s tribute concert – it’s great to have you on the bill. It means a lot to me, as Gene were one of my favourite bands and my dad liked them, too – in fact, he actually interviewed you before a gig at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth. I used to get him to talk to bands that I liked, and he enjoyed music by a lot of bands that I was into….
MJ: It’s a pleasure to do the show for you. My sincere condolences for your loss. I know what it’s like to lose your dad. Thanks for asking me. It’s great that John opened his ears to your taste. I’ll definitely be doing the same with my kids. These things should work both ways, no?
The gig is in Shanklin, on the Isle of Wight. The South Coast was good for Gene, wasn’t it? You played Portsmouth, Southampton and Brighton several times. I was at most of those gigs, but you never made it across the Solent to the Island, did you?
MJ: We always returned to towns that liked us. There are mini music businesses and communities in every town, and you have to keep being good and pleasing them to preserve their loyalty.
I’m not sure why we never went to the Isle of Wight…Maybe the community there wasn’t up for us, or more likely I would think that our agent felt that we were covering the south by doing Portsmouth and Southampton. Anyway I’m really very excited about coming to the Isle of Wight now.
Have you ever visited the Island before?
MJ: Nope – I’ve never been there, which is rather strange, as I’ve travelled the UK extensively. I suppose that means there’ll be no returning hero moment with the Islanders lining the streets and waving palms? That’s what happens when I go to Guernsey and Sark… ahem. Joking aside, it’s time to put the Isle of Wight in my treasured memory bank.
Maybe you could play the Isle of Wight Festival as a solo act? That would be great…
MJ: I would certainly love to play the festival if they would have me. It always looks amazing on the TV. I’ve just booked my ferry for your show and that gave me a tinge of excitement. If I was returning to play the festival, they’d need to tie me to the boat to stop me bouncing off…
Shanklin Theatre, which is the venue for the gig, is lovely. You should feel right at home there, as you like a bit of old school showbiz and glamour, don’t you? Gene always had a sense of drama to them…
MJ: Yes – we loved old theatres and treading hallowed boards. That’s why we featured the Royal Albert Hall on the artwork for our second LP [Drawn To The Deep End].
My mum was an amateur opera singer and I can remember being a small boy and hiding in huge curtain folds, looking out at her singing live. I internalised that very deeply. I’ve been lucky enough to play in some smashing places in my time, but it’s been a while. This will only be my fourth solo gig – and on the biggest stage I’ve done so far.
‘I have made a stand for creativity, and I also wanted to tackle some tricky subjects. It’s what my life was missing, and lockdown gave me an unexpected opportunity’
Let’s talk about you ‘going solo’. After Gene and your next band, Palace Fires, broke up, you started a career in the wine industry, but now you’ve become a singer-songwriter. How is it being a solo artist? To quote a Gene song, are you, ahem, fighting fit and able?
MJ: It’s been a long, long time since I was able to start a year and say: ‘I’ve got some new music coming out’.
I’m sure you can imagine that it feels very special. I have made a stand for creativity, and I also wanted to tackle some tricky subjects. It’s what my life was missing, and lockdown gave me an unexpected opportunity.
I’ve loved being a wine merchant and still do, but, if I’m honest, music is what I’m best at. Even when wine folk ask me about it, I always say: “I like wine almost as much as music!” I missed it so much, but I did need a long break.
You’ve released two great digital singles as a solo artist so far: A Simple Message and Snowy Peaks.Your debut song, A Simple Message, has a political message and a Gene-like sound – it’s down to the organ and the country-rock guitar – and the second, Snowy Peaks, is an anthemic love song. What can you tell us about those tracks? What inspired them?
MJ: I decided as I was starting from scratch as a solo artist that I would share quite a few tracks from the LP before releasing it, to give me a long build. There are three more songs to go before the LP is released in July and that feels right.
A Simple Message was the first one and, if I’m honest, it’s the one that’s most like Gene on the LP. For those people that know Gene, it has a Long Sleeves For The Summer-type jazzy drum shuffle and Steve Mason-esque guitar, although Steve [Gene guitarist] isn’t actually on that song – it’s me and Perry [Peredur ap Gwynedd] from Pendulum.
I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea making it the first release, but, in hindsight, it has worked out really well. It’s a decent song, in my opinion, with some understated charm, and I remembered that’s what worked for Gene with our first single, For The Dead.
The song is about how populist politicians rely so much on simple messages that are often completely inadequate instructions for people that need to determine quite complex and important issues. I think it was Joseph Goebbels that called it ‘the big lie…’
Snowy Peaks is a simple love song I wrote for my other half – it was the first song I wrote for the LP, but it’s been through quite a few versions. I like what I ended up with, but now I’m trying to work out how to play it live on my own, so I’m changing it yet again.
Steve Mason plays guitar on Snowy Peaks, doesn’t he?
MJ: That’s the fella! Steve was a fan of the song and he kept me on my toes by getting me to try and improve it. He sent me off to write more bits when I thought it was finished.
I love writing with Steve – we are obviously quite long in the tooth in that department. He plays on four songs on the LP and Kev [Miles – bassist] from Gene is on five, which feels good. I was very careful not to make the LP ‘Gene without Martin’ [Rossiter – singer], though, so there are other people on it, too.
You’ve also been recording with keyboardist Mick Talbot (Style Council, Dexys Midnight Runners), who played with Gene…
MJ: Yes – Mick plays on five or six songs, and I was very privileged to have him involved. What a legend he is and what a talent – not to mention he’s so nice and made us all chuckle with his quips and stories. Having him in the room with Kev, who is also a master of comedy, made the proceedings such a fun time.
‘Stephen Street has been advising me since I first started writing and learning to sing for the first time. He is someone who I trust implicitly not to bullshit me, but to also be nice enough to actually listen’
Mostly it was me and [producer] Stephen Street working, but when people showed up it changed the vibe and provided some injections of energy and goodness.
Stephen has been advising me since I first started writing and learning to sing for the first time. He is someone who I trust implicitly not to bullshit me, but to also be nice enough to actually listen. With so many people releasing music and vying for attention these days, it’s so hard to get anyone to listen or take you seriously – especially when you’ve been round the block like I have. That’s where I’m so lucky that I have a past and some music mates.
I’ve known Stephen for 30 years. He ended up producing the LP after initially aiming to do just a few tracks. We got some momentum though and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
I didn’t – and don’t – feel under any pressure at all to be successful. It really was just the pure joy of making music together. Hopefully that shows on the record. Now that it’s made, I’m chuffed if people want to check it out.
‘I don’t feel under any pressure to be successful. It’s really just the pure joy of making music together. Hopefully that shows on the record’
How and where did you make the album?
MJ: I wrote the record on my iPhone using GarageBand. I have a garden office and I worked in there.
I wrote 20 songs for it and 10 have made the LP. After it was written, we went to various places to do the drums and finally ended up at Stephen Street’s studio, The Bunker, which is a room he has at Damon Albarn’s studio in Latimer Road, London. It was nice to be in that kind of environment again. Damon came and said hello – he was nice.
We ended up using some of my original demos, as they just had a unique vibe that didn’t need to be recreated. It’s a nice mix and match of demos and new recordings, but Stephen is a master at mixing, so he polished it up very well.
There’s a new digital single, High Time, coming out on February 4 – just before the Isle of Wight gig. What can you tell me about that song?
MJ: Yes – February 4, which is just before your gig, so you can learn the lyrics and sing along. The song is about however much you try to control your life, it still throws dramatic unexpected events at you that can be good or bad, but have the power to swerve your life journey…
The song references a terrible road accident I was involved in 1991, with the lads from the band Spin, and also the random event of meeting Martin Rossiter a few months later in the Underworld [in Camden] completely by chance. That time it had a good outcome.
We were actually out with Stephen Street that night, so that’s another interesting link. There’s a mild religious element to the song too. I’m not an overly religious person, but I’m not an atheist either.
So, the album’s coming out in July…
MJ: Yes – July 2022 is my big moment. There are 10 songs – five on each side. I am making some vinyl…
It will be released on Costermonger Records, which is the old Gene – and one other band, Brassy-associated label, started by music journos Keith Cameron and Roy Wilkinson.
I always thought it was an amazing label name and I was sad when Gene stopped using it and changed to Polydor. They had signed us of course, so it wasn’t an option to use Costermonger anymore. Keith and Roy won’t be involved right now though, other than they are mates with trusted musical ears.
‘The album will be released on Costermonger Records, which is the old Gene label. I always thought it was an amazing name and I was sad when Gene stopped using it’
These days, with digital releases, a label doesn’t mean quite as much, unless you are in a stable of acts, but for the vinyl I wanted a label name with gravitas. I’m honoured that they’ve allowed me to resurrect it and start those catalogue numbers again. COST11 is coming soon – I’ll save the LP title for now… Who knows there may even be other acts on the label one day… it comes from a place of friendship but it’s mainly just me at the moment and Mrs James, who helps with the artwork.
I have had some help from the guys at Demon too, who did the Gene re-issues [in 2020], and some PR pals will be helping. It’s all very informal and fun – I’m loving it. I would say that eight of the 10 songs on the album could be singles – it’s that kind of record.
The fourth and fifth singles will have B-sides that are not on the LP. We consider those to be perhaps the best chance of piquing the interest of people who don’t know anything about me. Erm, so that’s nearly everybody!
Finally, we should raise a glass to my dad. Can you recommend a decent, affordable red wine?
MJ: Absolutely. I’ll bring one with me to the gig. If it’s a red, I love Bordeaux, something like Clos de L’Oratoire Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe. Chin-chin and all due respect to John for his great life achievements.
Matt James’s new single, High Time, will be released digitally on February 4. You can pre-save it here. His debut solo album is due out in July this year.
Matt will be appearing at Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – a tribute to John Hannam: Sunday February 6 2022: a night of live music in memory of legendary Isle of Wight journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, who died in autumn 2021.
The gig will feature My Darling Clementine, Matt James (Gene), Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Matt Hill, Brian Sharpe, Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird, Bob and Bertie Everson.
Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital. Tickets are available here.
Following his death, I decided to take a few months off, to deal with family matters and try to come to terms with his untimely passing. However, in true entertainment tradition, the show must go on, so today I’m updating Say It With Garage Flowers with some news that also acts as a tribute to my dad’s extraordinary career and his wonderful legacy.
On Sunday February 6 2022, I am staging a charity concert in honour of my dad. It will take place at Shanklin Theatre, on the Isle of Wight, where my dad was born and bred and spent his life.
Dad loved the Island – he made a name for himself there and was never lured away by the bright lights of Fleet Street, or national radio, although his great reputation was known all over the UK and across the world.
During his amazing life – almost 50 years of it spent interviewing stars of stage and screen, as well as local people – he decided to stay on the Island, with his family and friends. Shanklin Theatre was a venue that my dad was very fond of – it’s where we held the wake for his funeral in November – so it’s very fitting that the tribute concert will take place there.
‘On Sunday February 6 2022, I am staging a charity concert in honour of my dad. It will take place at Shanklin Theatre, on the Isle of Wight, where my dad was born and bred and spent his life’
As a nod to the showbiz TV series, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, I’ve called the concert Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – A Tribute To John Hannam. The line-up of performers will include national and local musicians who dad liked, admired and supported – most of whom he interviewed at some stage during his career.
So, who’s on the bill? Headlining the night will be British husband-and-wife country duo, My Darling Clementine – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish. Last year saw the release of their fourth album, Country Darkness – a project which saw them collaborating with Elvis Costello’s keyboardist and right-hand man Steve Nieve (The Imposters/ The Attractions) and reinterpreting some of Costello’s country and country-soul songs.
Also performing on the night will be singer-songwriter, Matt James – the former drummer of ’90s anthemic indie-rockers Gene.
Earlier this year, Matt launched his solo career with his debut single, A Simple Message. The follow-up, Snowy Peaks, is released digitally on December 10, and there’s an album planned for next year.
The consumer magazine Hi-Fi+ called Matt, ‘A very gifted songwriter and a master of telling stories.’
Local Isle of Wight musicians, or those with a connection to the area, will also be performing on the night. There will be appearances from Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race and The Chesterfields); professional singer and actress Amy Bird; reformed ’80s band Bobby I Can Fly; Chris Clarke, who was the bassist in UK Americana act, Danny & The Champions Of The World and runs Reservoir Studios in North London; local guitar legend, Brian Sharpe (The Cherokees) and, finally, local duo Bob and Bertie Everson.
Tickets are available here and cost £10. Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital, Newport, Isle of Wight. Doors open at 7pm.
My dad loved music – of all different styles. Thanks to him, my sister Caroline and I are both big music lovers too. I have fond memories of him playing music in the house when we were growing up.
Through my dad, I got my passion for ‘60s music. For Christmas, birthdays and Father’s Day, I always used to buy him albums by current bands and artists that I thought he might like. Luckily, he always did – usually because they sounded like ‘60s acts he’d got me into in the first place…. I shall really miss our listening sessions and chats about music.
Dad got me into legendary twangy guitarist Duane Eddy – one of dad’s musical heroes and also one of mine.
In 2018, Dad and I were lucky enough to be invited to see Duane play a gig at the London Palladium. We sat in on the sound check – it was basically our own private Duane Eddy gig – and then we watched the show and met Duane backstage.
It’s a night I’ll never forget, especially as when I shook Duane’s hand, he said to me: “This night is all about heroes.” I was with two of mine, and dad was with one of his. It was truly special.
Let’s make Sunday Night At Shanklin Theatre: A Tribute To John Hannam a night to remember too.
Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – a tribute to John Hannam: Sunday February 6 2022.
A night of live music in memory of legendary Isle of Wight journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, who died in autumn 2021.
Featuring My Darling Clementine, Matt James (Gene), Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Matt Hill, Brian Sharpe, Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird, Bob and Bertie Everson.
Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital.