To celebrate 10 years since its recording, I wanted to share a version of my debut album, as I originally intended it to be. It was an album that took me a lifetime of sacrifices, ups, and downs to make, and has a crazy history. The album itself was finally released in 2016 via the West One Music label, but its story dates back over a decade before it saw the light of day. The album’s final release was really a personal failure, wrapped in a success. Ironically, kind of the opposite to how I see myself. Although, I am obviously grateful and happy that it did come out on a label in the end. The tracks included, titles and ordering actually had very little to do with me, with certain tracks left off.
The deal I had with the label (West One) was simply for ten tracks, so just ten randomly picked tracks were chosen, from the body of tracks recorded. Some we then retitled with more appropriate titles (the label specialises in TV and Film music placement, hence the more emotive and obvious titles) and then released. Even the front cover wasn’t really my choice, as Crimewatch as turned out. Having said that, I am very thankful. When you learn a little about why it took so long in the first place, you start to see that, third-party action, was probably the only way it would have seen the light of day.
“That Was The Plan”
The story of my first album actually dates back to 2004. After ten years on the UK gig circuit, I finally got discovered by the ‘big London manager’ during a gig at a place called The Cotswold in my hometown of Cheltenham. Cheltenham was a great place back then to build a following and grow. But apart from some brief sessions and interest from EMI and Blur’s A&R guy Andy Ross (Food, Parlophone), that fizzled out like a wet firework, I hadn’t had that lucky break.
Anyways, this new sparkly London manager came down to my gig, after some recommendation. He liked ‘Catch The Sun’ and shortly after, signed me up. At 21, I felt discovered, as they say. After setting me up some shows in London, he instantly got me label interest, and in 2004, I signed my first big publishing deal with EMI.
This is how in 2005, I managed to find myself in the studio with record producer Sam Williams (Supergrass), attempting to record my debut album (for the first time).
It was an amazing experience, but I felt truly lost for most of the recording process. I’d gone from bedrooms to clubs and bars to studios, without any real idea of what you do then. I needed time to develop before being thrown in, but instead, I was in Monnow Valley Studios in Wales with this great team.
In amongst the studios and laboured recording processes, it didn’t take me long to lose my way. I was struggling to believe in the recordings and in myself, and after a single release (Baby I’m Tired - 2005), and much touring, I shared my concerns about the album (titled ‘This Is The Plan’) to the label.
Understandably, they agreed with me about the record, but they gave me few options: “release the album as is, and see if it works out”.
I completely got their views, they’d spent a lot of money and needed a release. On a personal note, I also wouldn’t receive the second payment (around 45K) until I released it, which obviously, I could not afford to do. For some reason though, I just didn’t think we made an album that was good enough. I knew that if I did release the album, I’d really regret it creatively and would end up getting dropped by the label anyway. Around this time, Jonathon Ross played Baby I’m Tired on Radio 2. He said “well that was instantly forgettable”, which of course, he was right, it was. Late 2005, I decided not to allow the release, and instead to go missing. I vanished, sunk into everyday life, changed my name, and got many jobs (call centers, cleaner, factory work). During this invisible period, I decided to work on my songs and performances. I felt like a ghost in a shadow of my former life, but also empowered by the new songs I was writing.
“Play it again Sam”
After nearly two years of writing and working crap jobs, it was safe to say, I was feeling more realised but even more drifting. To avoid being located by EMI, I was playing and living under a fake name (Sam Elliott). It was during one particularly dark period, that I played at a showcase night at London’s Cobden Club. I hadn’t played London in two years, and under my false identity, I pulled out a short set of songs to a half-empty room. It was the strangest thing, right after my set I was approached by an A&R guy from Sony Records. He said “Loved the set, but isn’t your name Si Connelly? Umm yeah, I guess.
Fast-forward and this was how, after all the previous darkness since shelving my first album, I managed to find myself in another big shiny label, signing a three-album record deal to Sony. During this time, I also extended my first publishing deal to EMI, which was about to expire. I walked into their offices to be greeted with “When the hell have you been? We couldn’t find you!” I filled in the gaps and stated that I had just signed to Sony and that I was now remaking (different tracks) my debut album. It was 2007. It had taken years, but I’d somehow managed to come out of the wilderness.
Because of the first time around, during my contract negotiations with Sony, I was very adamant that the album should be recorded live.
I wanted to capture, rather than piece it together on computers. Sadly though, shortly after the contract was signed, I found myself being sidelined again. It’s funny, like chess, you don’t really notice the moves when they’re made, you just sort of realise that the game has changed. Now the plan was to record the album in a cheaper, more pieced together, programmed way. Before I knew it, I was trying to shoehorn in the spine of the songs, around the busy pop production flesh, grown by someone else. My requests to record it live were no longer options. Before you know it, it’s like check-mate. You’re out of moves and have to look at what you have. The producer was great, but it just wasn’t the right marriage. I finally managed to get it to the head guy at Sony, and he agreed that it lacked my rawness.
They offered me some money to tart it up, but I guessed it wasn’t really enough to make the album right. It needed re-recording (again).
It was now 2009, and my options were limited. I decided to leave the label and re-make the album, the way I’d be trying to for years.
The problem now was money. I had none. I was out of lives, living out of my car and minus deals. I’d shelved two albums to protect some kind of artistic vision, but to make this worth it, I now had to create something from nothing.
One nothing day in 2009, I decided to try and reach out to any contacts I had left, with a half-baked plan. I only emailed one producer: Chris Potter (The Verve, Blur, Rolling Stones). I babbled on with my biography of nothings, and asked if he’d be interested in making my album via some kind of production deal (basically, a deal based on shared-ownership, with little to no money). My plan being, to make the album, then sign it to some big label. A few days later, Chris agreed to meet me, and I played him some new songs live in the studio. Chris asked me how much budget was no budget? and I said £1. Amazingly, Chris agreed to help in his spare time. He also brought in, the amazing Dom Morley (Amy Winehouse, Adele). Next, I had to sort out the studio hire costs. I emailed Monnow Valley and stupidly begged for some free time (absolutely crazy, I know), to my amazement, they agreed to give me five days over Christmas. Youth was now on.
In the snowy Christmas of 2010, me and my new band, (Hils, Phil & Tom) headed to Monnow Valley Studios in Wales with Chris and Dom. We recorded Hurt You (AKA 1982) and Goodnight My Lover (AKA City Lights) in one midnight take, minutes apart, completely live. The rest of the songs came together over the following days.
That’s how, after years and years of feeling destroyed, redundant and alone, two record deals, countless managers, two scrapped albums, I had managed to finally get in a room and just capture. It was all down to these wonderful people. This is how my debut album was finally mastered.
On completion of the Monnow Valley sessions, we started to lay down the overdubs down and mixes. Working in spare time, this did take a while, as I knew it would, due to my lack of money. Fast-forward a few years later (yes, years) we had finished the album. Obviously, this was frustrating for all of us. If we’d had money it would have taken months, but everything has a process, and I was just grateful to have something I was proud of. Upon completion though came the hard part. Figuring out, how without any money, anyone was going to actually hear it. My earlier plan of just signing it to one of the shiny labels wasn’t going to work now, due to the big industry changes happening globally.
You see, in the time it took to do all this, the music industry and world had completely changed. There was always a way of doing things before the internet took hold. You either signed a deal and made an album, or you made an album and then signed a deal. Labels would sign, develop, and promote you, and use their machine to break you as an act.
But now, an unprecedented landscape, stated that you break yourself, by spending a small fortune, and then, if you are somewhat successful, you may be eligible that deal.
This obviously created some immediate issues, whilst fighting the gravitational pull into the dinosaur vortex, I had to now sign myself. Umm.
By 2014, I was stuck in this limbo, Me and Hils spent significant amounts of money touring, paying PR, radio pluggers, musicians, distribution costs and generally trying to create enough interest to well…create interest. Then the world that I’d been somehow dragging backwards stopped, and started revolving the way it should. I had run out of money. I had run out of myself. It was 2015, and after years, I finally felt tired and out of ideas.
It was early 2016, and my previous songwriting agent told me that West One Label were interested in releasing the album, mainly for TV sync purposes. You know, the music you hear sheep grazing to on Countryfile. They would facilitate its release and ‘work’ the album in that field. You can imagine by this time, I was just grateful that it could finally be released. I was more than ready to move forward, and these guys gave me my finish line, and start line, all at once.
It had been 12-years of battles and scars to finish it, after all.
In 2016, West One Music hand-picked ten tracks and released it, so it could be heard by you lovely people.
I think the best thing about the release, was that it drew a line in the sand. It may sound strange after so many years, but it’s not until you release something that you let it go.
After its release, I decided to let more go. I released 2017’s ‘Eject’ (A 24-track double album) as my second album, followed by my third album, 2018’s ’13 Ghosts’.
I am now in the process of releasing singles from my upcoming, self-produced, fourth album ‘Change’ (now released 2021). A sort of remixed version of an album I would have made in a studio with a band, had I had the resources.
As I write this, I am also recording and producing my fifth album ‘Loneliness, in the making’.
It’s been a long road, and I now have built up many scars for sure. But when I hear some of the tracks on Youth, War & Joy, I know every one of them was worth it.
The album's original title ‘Youth’ was meant to cover my early life and battles. I added the War and Joy after one battle too many.