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A Magazine for Sheffield

Ed Harcourt "I’m honoured to be part of something that can help small venues stay open"

The veteran songwriter, producer and performer tells us about his involvement in the Music Venue Trust's United By Music campaign and his upcoming Sheffield gig as part of it.

Ed harcourt 2

Ed Harcourt's musical pedigree dates from 2000, with ten studio albums and 13 EPs under his belt, as well as a roll call of collaborations with artists ranging from Marianne Faithfull to Flood, The Libertines to Orbital's Paul Hartnoll.

Eschewing his own work in 2007 to concentrate on songwriting for others has allowed Harcourt the flexibility to extend his sonic palette, applying his incredible songwriting and production skills with the likes of Paloma Faith and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, as well as being band leader for a whole album live version of Sgt. Pepper's at the Philharmonie de Paris with help from Carl Barât and Pete Doherty (The Libertines), Barrie Cadogan (Primal Scream), Gaz Coombes (Supergrass) and Steve Mason.

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd recently announced that £2.1m of funding had been raised to support the acquisition of nine grassroots gig spaces in an effort to reverse the decline of venues critical to the development of fledgling artists and musicians. To promote that vision, MVT have rolled out United By Music, an extensive roster of gigs and performances by a wide range of bands and artists, designed to raise awareness of the need to invest further in precious gig spaces.

Harcourt is one such musician to add his considerable musical heft to the cause, coming to Sheffield to play at Yellow Arch Studios on 24 July.

I asked Ed how he got involved in the project and what his motivation was. "I've been involved with MVT for a while now, starting at The Roundhouse in Camden. Mark [Davyd] is a brilliantly relentless campaigner who has been such an important spearhead in championing the live music scene in the UK.

"All of the venues I'm playing at are associated with MVT and part of the campaign, so hopefully it'll be a great night of music for a very important cause."

The demise of venues of all sizes has real resonance here in Sheffield with The Leadmill's ongoing battle to remain independent. How important is maintaining industry focus on the issue?

"It's a serious problem, which is why we are at this point," says Ed. "Venues are closing every week and therefore depriving up-and-coming bands and artists of any opportunity to develop, grow, prosper and potentially become the popular, legendary future artists that we know and love today. To pull this rug out seems unfair, unjust and a goddamn crime."

Past Now Then articles have covered the devastating impact on UK touring musicians post-Brexit, both in terms of restrictive red-tape and unviable financial cost for EU visa expenditure, blame for which can be laid firmly at the door of successive Ministers for Culture, Media and Sport, from the hapless Nadine Dorries to the inertial agenda of the incumbent Lucy Fraser.

What does Ed think of the situation? "I don’t think our current government really cares for the arts, as you can see with the cuts. Universities too. The closing down of communal centres by Tory councils, etc – it's all akin to the austerity gap."

Of course, wealthier bands and artists with strong fan bases and even healthier fiscal resources have, at least to a degree, been able to survive the restrictive onslaught of Brexit hurdles. But the downside to this comes in the shape of expensive gig tickets and costlier outcomes for fans, thus reducing opportunities for start-up, fledgling artists, with the repercussions of putting small venues at risk.

Harcourt picks up on this point more succinctly. "I think people are shelling out their hard-earned cash on extortionately-priced festivals and stadium/arena gigs for the bigger artists, leaving everyone else in a Goliath-type shadow.

"I think making the general public aware of this is really important. I mean, not everyone is going to know about all these small venues closing down. I’m truly honoured to be part of something that can help all these magical places stay open and continue to thrive."

We turn our attention to Ed's work and his involvement with new artists in the studio. "There's a really interesting record coming out in August by Kit Green. They're non-binary and the album is about gender identity. I produced it and Kit wrote the songs with Kathryn Williams. It's really diverse, ranging from Weimar Cabaret to acoustic folk to EDM."

I remind him of his production skills on the recently released Hannah Rose Platt album, Deathbed Confessions. "It's wonderful. It was also recorded at the Wolf Cabin [Harcourt's studio] and is a collection of mad, beautiful ghost songs, plus I must mention the third album I've produced for Tom Bright, which is a little step forward into a more electric sound for the tousle-haired acoustic heartthrob!"

As mentioned, high-profile collaborations are at the heart of the never-less-than-impressive Harcourt CV. Have there been any recent additions to his list? "Yes, I've just written a new song with Marianne [Faithfull] actually – I'm hoping something will come of it – plus there's the recently released Sophie Ellis-Bextor LP [Hana], a kaleidoscopic, dream pop extravaganza".

I mention that it's been a couple of years since Monochrome to Colour, his second instrumental LP. Does he have any plans for a follow-up, and will it include the incredible talents of his wife Gita and her sister Amy on any tracks?

"Actually, my next album is back to singing again. It's called El Magnifico and will be out early next year on my new Deathless/Integral label. And yes, it does feature Gita and Amy on strings. It's a fairly piano-heavy record, with me whacking drums too as well as wailing away. I did start a third instrumental record, but that's on hold at the moment."

Winding up our conversation, I return to the importance of supporting new recording artists and performers. Does he have any advice to offer those starting their musical journeys?

"Follow your own path and never stray. If you have that ‘drive’ you’ll be hungry and eager to experiment and push yourself. Don’t listen to old farts like me too much. Lock yourself away in your own world when you can and, above all, don't allow outside people to dilute or distil your art to make you a vanilla, beige, pastel photocopy of your original, effervescent self."

And in dealing with the music industry?

"Don't sign to a major label. Their days are over. Don't sign any management contracts – handshake only. Oh, and always treat the crew in venues with the utmost respect."

Harcourt's musical independence and continual search for new influences to help foster and nurture new talent is well catalogued, so his backing of United By Music in preserving and growing the number of small venues in the UK comes as no surprise. But actions speak louder than words, so his efforts in getting out and playing shows to raise awareness for such worthy causes deserves our own support and admiration.

Learn more

Ed Harcourt plays Yellow Arch Studios on 24 July and you can support and follow MVT's progress in its ongoing quest for fundraising via the links below. Get involved if you can. The future of grassroots music and venues is very much at stake.

Yellow Arch accessibility information - Access to venue and courtyard is at street level, with an accessible toilet and no stairs or lifts required.

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