Chris Lewington is one of our most talented singer-songwriters who has been making music since his early teens when he first picked up a guitar. He first found inspiration in the music of Ennio Morricone with his iconic themes for the 60’s Italian Westerns and also John Barry with his stylish movie music. This provided a framework of brilliance on which he slowly built his own distinctive style as he continued on to find inspiration in the singer songwriter genius of Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen, artists who could combine the complexity of human emotion with a timeless melody to create three minute masterpieces. These two inspirations may seem to be very different but what they all shared was the ability to create something thematic and yet memorable; there is no point having a message if nobody remembers it.
Chris Lewington has developed his music from his first band ‘The Silence’ in the early 80’s to his next project ‘The Bicycle Thieves’, with their REM like style, who gained Radio 1 airplay and garnered the TDK Songwriter award in 1989. By the early 90’s Chris had returned to his singer songwriter roots to create ‘The Famous Blue Raincoats’, a folky acoustic band that performed in more intimate venues around London. After that Chris started to concentrate on his writing and creating new material for various publishers until 2018 when he decided he was ready to embark on his solo career.
In 2018 Chris released his first official full length album, happy that home technology had advanced to a point where quality would not suffer by home recording and naming the release after the street where it was recorded. ‘Landells Road’ was followed by the sophomore ‘Riverside’ in 2020 and the new record ‘Starfish Memories’ will drop in August of this year. The pre-release EP includes four very different songs: ‘The Bridge at Midnight’, ‘Blue Skies, Fields of Gold’, ‘Radio, Radio’ and ‘It’s Going to Be Okay’ and I’d really recommend a download to get a flavour of what I think might be Chris’s most accomplished music to date. I can’t wait and so I was thrilled to get the chance to pose Chris a few questions, especially as our musical journeys started with exactly the same record.
EP: I remember growing up, the first LP I ever bought was A Fistful of Dollars/ For a Few Dollars More soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. I then discovered a shop in Covent Garden called Soundtrack & General who sent out a monthly newsletter and did mail order. I’ve been building my collection ever since. I understand The Maestro had a similar hold on you. How did he influence your music and what’s your favourite work?
CL: Yes, my first love musically as a kid was movie themes and I used to collect the Geoff Love mfp LPs where he’d do different genres particularly Westerns. And I just remember that the Ennio Morricone ones he did were a bit edgier so I thought next purchase I’ll get an Ennio Morricone soundtrack album, probably that same soundtrack you got- Orangey sort of background; the one with Clint doing his “you cursing my mule” look and three sort of bad assed Mexican baddies lining up for a shoot out on the front. And that just blew me away. The mix of Link Ray guitar, howling screams, sudden choral climaxes, whips and gunshots, big orchestral blasts. If there’s a lasting impression he left with me, it’s add the unexpected. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever sounded like him or tried to because Morricone is Morricone and it’s a very set style. There’s I think a Danish band, Salem who kind of do songs in that style but while they’re good you know it’s a pastiche of the real thing. For me it’s still the early 60’s and 70’s Spaghetti Western themes that are his master works. So revolutionary. If I have a favourite it’s got to be Navajo Joe. I mean the movie itself is abysmal but that theme tune. It opens with this complete scream that just crescendos into an even more manic scream. You know the rest of the movie world is doing these big conventional orchestral things all up-tempo, riding the range, Magnificent 7 or Big Country and there’s Ennio giving you some guy screaming his guts out as the film’s opening piece. Brilliant.
EP: Your musical journey has encompassed many genres and you’ve experienced critical acclaim in all of them. Do you feel particularly drawn to one genre or are you genre fluid these days?
CL: If I have to nail my colours to a genre I’d go singer-songwriter. Because at heart that’s what I am and it also covers a broad range of styles. I mean Neil Young is a singer songwriter and one track he’s just being very melancholy him with an acoustic guitar and another he’s belting it out with ‘Crazy Horse Rocking in the Free World’. I’ve kind of stretched genres like that in what I’ve done. There’s almost a metalish track on my first solo album “Watching You Watching Me” then on my second album “Riverside” there’s a Rupert Brooke’s poem set to a classical style orchestral piece. The upcoming album “Starfish Memories” kind of mixes it. There’s acoustic intimate ballads, there’s up-tempo rockers, there’s a kind of Fleetwood Mac style song, there’s a very 60’s sort of harmonies style track. Obviously the trick is to still retain an overriding style or sound that is me that holds all the tracks together. A bit like the Beatles who managed to pull it off – there’s an Edwardian dance hall one next to a bit of sitar playing next to a psychedelic freak out here- but it still couldn’t be anything other than a Beatles album.
EP: Recent technology has meant that music can be home produced to great effect and high standard. If you don’t have a producer, who acts as your quality filter?
CL: My girlfriend. She’s my A and R person. I wrote an entirely different set of lyrics for “Radio, Radio” and she just said nope doesn’t work. So I rewrote it and she was alright. She’ll tell me if the bass is too heavy in the mix or to change the last line of ‘It’ll Be Okay’ so that it went up, to end it more positive.
EP: You have worked with the legendary Tony Visconti. What was that experience like and how has he helped you and the direction your music evolved in?
CL: The Bicycle Thieves recorded a track with him producing. While it was a great experience to obviously be working with a rock and roll legend and it was great hearing tales of Bowie and Marc Bolan back in the day I wouldn’t say I gained much musically from it. I mean I’d like to go back in time and tell my younger self to ask him a ton of questions about how he was recording this and that but that’s because now I have had to learn and take on the role of producer/ engineer and there’s a whole world of EQ, panning, compressors, limiters etc. that just went over my head then that I’d love to sit down now with him and get his tips on. Then I was just focused on my playing and vocal performance. To be brutally honest and I’m not really singling out Visconti here just in general, a good engineer always counts more than a producer. The engineer is the person that’s going to mic up your guitar or make the difference between your voice sounding wonderful or weedy. If you’ve got an idea about how you want to sound and what you’re about then that’s what you need.
EP: Your pre album release EP for ‘Starfish Memories’ has four very different tracks. I love ‘It’s Going to Be Ok’; it seems the perfect anthem as we hopefully emerge from COVID and get back to live music. What’s the inspiration for that track?
CL: Spot on. ‘It’s Going to Be Ok’ is written as a post COVID song. It’s oblique; you don’t need to take it as that but that was at the back of my mind in writing it. Basically from the point of view of a nurse on an A and E ward. I mean the COVID experience was strange. The first year of the pandemic, for me that Spring was actually a lovely time, I live in the country I could get out in the countryside and walk, it was spring, birds were singing, no traffic, everyone off work taking it easy. It was quite lovely. But then you’d watch the news and realize yeah nice for you mate but it’s a war zone elsewhere for other people particularly in the hospitals where medical staff were close to breaking point.
EP: Your new album drops late August. What can we expect and will you be touring the album?
CL: Album drops August 26th. No, unfortunately I won’t be touring. I’d love to get out and play the songs live but it’s logistics. I can’t justify putting a band together, to rehearse and then do a few dates for an artist at my level. I could go out and play the songs solo, me and guitar but then it wouldn’t be the album experience. It would sound very different. So as such my solo music career is a purely recording venture.
EP: How can people follow your new solo output and what can we expect for the future?
CL: In the future who knows. Last song I wrote was quite a folk style piece but I couldn’t say if that’s where I’m going. I’d quite like to do more orchestral or string arrangements. Go a bit Scott Walker. Whatever I end up doing I expect it’ll be quite an eclectic mix. You can listen to me on any streaming service. From Spotify and Apple Music to Tencent in China and Saavan in India. You can find my videos on YouTube at Chris Lewington Music and like many indie artists you can buy my albums and singles from Bandcamp. Or you can check out my website at www.chrislewington.co.uk and my Facebook page.