Matt Henshaw: “An Old Soul in a Young Body”
As with most things in life, music has a life cycle and in the early to late 00’s, the underground music scene was most definitely at the top of it’s circle. Every town, no matter how small had music venues and more than enough bands to have gigs on just about every night of the week. In 2003 I hosted the first of my two Battle of the Bands competitions at what at the time was Ilkeston TOWN FC. Even without the help of the internet and social media, the club house just about filled it’s 250 capacity for all seven rounds.
As far back as I can remember, Ilkeston has produced some great bands, from the 80’s with Angel Heart, Headstrong, Weavers Ro to the 00’s with DiP, Isolysis, Patchwork Grace, Blindsight and many more. These bands all played at my monthly Big Zee’s Party 7 gig nights at the football club and never failed to pull big crowds. As well as the football club, two other Ilkeston promoters Adrian Ball and Lee McMahon, better known as Wolfman & It, were hosting weekly gigs at the Gallows in on a Thursday night, same bands, same crowd, same great nights and atmosphere.
Matt’s first musical project was in the early noughties with Censored, a band who’s sound was a hark back to the 60’s Mod era. They plied their trade mainly around the East Midlands with gigs in Derby, Nottingham and Leicester and in 2005 their hard work began to pay off when they were selected by Lee Jeans to play their stage at the Leeds and Reading Festivals and the following year they were again selected, this time by TopMan.
The band continued to tour throughout 2006/07, sharing the stage with Snow Patrol, Ocean Colour Scene and Supergrass to name a but few.
Despite making inroads into the music business, they decided to call time on Censored and played their final show at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms.
Matt takes up the story from there…..
“Before I started playing guitar, there was a Strongbow advert on tv at the time that used Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, I didn’t know what the intro was but I knew that I wanted to make that noise, it was my dad who told me it was a guitar, that’s what got me into playing. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that it was an organ being played through a guitar amp, I wish I’d played the organ a little bit, be a bit like Booker T.”
“This was all in the mid nineties, so We were in the middle of Brit Pop and I got into Oasis, Blur and Paul Weller, they were the big three for me, they wore their influences on their sleeves, their albums between ninety four and ninety six were a reference book going all the way back to the sixties and the Beatles.”
It wasn’t until nineteen ninety seven that Matt started to have thoughts about forming his own band. His parents had Sky Sports installed so he could watch his beloved Sheffield Wednesday, but it would be the music channels that influenced him more than the football: “We started off at the top of the league, David Pleat was manager and we had Ritchie Humphries, he was terrible, but he managed to score plenty of goals. Along with the sport channels came music channels and one day I saw The Small Faces, I looked at Steve Marriott and I thought, wow I want to be in a band just like that, with a guitarist that sings, a bass player, a drummer and an organ player, but I never managed to find a really decent organist, when the first band Censored was formed, we did have one for a short period, but it didn’t really work out. Drummers always seem to be happy in their own little world, but when you’re a teenager generally people that play bass or keyboard are frustrated guitarists and frontmen.”
Censored was formed whilst still at school and to find four fifteen year olds all at the same school and all into music that was borne out of a sixties influence and not what was happening at that time, whilst not impossible, seemed unlikely: “The three of us who became Censored as people knew it were Chris Goring and Nathan Clarke, we were all into Brit pop stuff, but then when the late nineties came along a lot of people our age moved onto Nu Metal or R & B, so the three of us were the weirdos of the school with longer hair than the Hip Hop kids, but not as long as the Metal Heads, we wore suits for a while.
With not having an organist we were sounding more like The Jam or The Who and that wasn’t really who I wanted us to sound like, I wanted to emulate the Small Faces, right from seeing them for the first time, an old black and white recording of Itchy Coo park from a German tv show on VH1 I think it was, I was just blown away, It didn’t matter what the song was really, it was just the way he looked and how the band sounded.”
Within four or five months of Matt forming Censored, they had won four different Battle of the Band competitions in Ilkeston and Derby and Nottingham including Derbyshire Young band of the Year in Chesterfield. “They were such good confidence boosters, from there we went out and finished school, then got a record deal down in London and played some really big festivals, Leeds, Reading and the Isle of White
“The biggest achievement for us as Censored was just being three lads from Ilkeston who went out and did it and it was really just a whirlwind of a time, especially around 2007/08 when Chris Owens was in the band. Nathan had left by this time. When the record deal and touring came about he wasn’t as into it as me and Chris were, he was happy enough with the rehearsal and writing side of it, but going out touring wasn’t for him.
We were playing festivals and doing gigs with We Are Scientists, The Arctic Monkeys, The Klaxons and Supergrass. As well as playing these great gigs, we did play with 911 and Bobby Davro, they were weird gigs. They were student balls and the line up was us, 911, Supergrass and Chappers and Dave from Radio 1, I’m not sure about the Bobby Davro one.”
“At this time we should all really have been students ourselves, but instead we were gigging and drinking with Supergrass, it was mad. The whole thing is a bit of a blur really and apart from a box in my parents loft there’s not a lot of documentation of the time. It was just pre the internet going really massive with social media, there’s a couple of videos on youtube, but nothing in the way of internet released singles or albums, it was all cd’s and we shifted bucket loads of them. We had a website and were all over myspace, but when the band finished, we stopped paying for the website domain and myspace changed beyond all recognition so there’s not really much to show for that whole time. I still se Chris Goring as much as I can, when both of us aren’t busy and we’re both like “Pfft, what happened there? That was mental.” We’d turn up to gigs in places like Barrow in Furness in Cumbria and because myspace was such a big thing at the time, it seemed that all we had to do was book a gig, stick a poster on myspace and two hundred kids would turn up.”
As well as being in the band, the members of Censored started their own monthly night at the now empty Junktion7 in Nottingham, it was called club SOS and they would use their contacts from touring the to fill the bill with up and coming bands from all over the UK: “Those nights were great, we’d be getting nearly 200 people turn out every month, I still get people contacting me now to say how great those nights were.
Although Matt is now tea-total, his time in Censored was a different ball game. Being in a band, it’s easy to get caught up in the partying side of band life and when you’re out on the road touring and when so many fans are offering to buy you drinks, it’s easy to get carried away: “Part of it being a blur to us was alcohol, I always felt a bit terrible because if we didn’t have a tour driver or tour manager, we’d all just pile in Chris Goring’s Citroen Saxo and he’d do all of the driving because he was the only one of who could drive at that time. So me and Chris Owen would just get absolutely leathered and poor Chris Goring had to put up with us being drunk and him being sober. He did get involved in the antics of three twenty year olds in a band, just not the drinking, just stupid stuff like pulling up outside someone’s house and playing knock a door run, only it was knock a door drive away, there may also have been a few road signs liberated along the way, all just stupid innocent pranks that a lot of kids our age were getting up to.”
“I’d been drinking pretty heavily through 2008, it wasn’t uncommon for me to wind up in hospital at least once a month through alcohol related incidents. It was only on October 3rd 2008, which is my brother’s birthday and I was in a hospital bed, when I realised that I had to stop drinking, as it wasn’t doing my life any favours.”
“During that year there were three tours that for whatever reason, didn’t happen, one with the NME, one with The Rifles and one with The Enemy, so instead of me touring I found myself back in Ilkeston alone in the house whilst my parents were at work, I’d walk up to Bellini’s and get a bottle of gin and it was a horrible time. By that Autumn, we’d done three gigs when it should have been eighty, we played Manchester, Stoke and Oxford, I was just a mess at these three gigs. I later saw a picture of myself from Stoke and I was verging on the Pete Docherty(The Libertines) look, it wasn’t good at all. After those three gigs we had one more booked, it was to be a homecoming gig at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms and as a band, we all knew it was going to be the last one, but we didn’t tell anyone until afterwards that Censored was finished.”
“When I quit the band and moved away from music, I had a mass clear out of my contacts. I went from having over two thousand imaginary friends on social media to about twenty phone numbers of friends and it was such a cathartic thing to do. During the nine months after leaving the band, when I was at my grans doing her garden, I found a load of old gardening books that had been my step granddads and I really got into gardening and working with the soil, if the weather was too bad to be in the garden, I’d be inside reading and learning as much as I could, but that’s my addictive personality kicking in, once I get into something, I have to know all about it. When I finally stopped drinking alcohol I replaced it with tea and drank so much of it”
“After the final gig, I moved back in with my parents, the others got jobs and houses. I was just going round to my grans and doing her gardening for her, trying to work out what to do with my life. I finally went to collect my A Level results and it turned out that I’d done quite well and after three years of wanting to do anything but be a student I finally decided to apply to universities. At first I was applying to places as far away from here as possible, I even looked at going to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I really just wanted a complete change of scenery. I was accepted to Cambridge, but after going to look round it I didn’t like the place, it didn’t feel right for me. So after trying to get as afar away as possible, I ended up looking at Leicester University and really liked it there, it felt right. I think what clinched it was the newspaper clippings in the reception area of all of the bands that had played there in the 60’s, Rod Stewart, The Who, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones and I got to thinking that yeah, I could see myself here.”
When I went to University, I studied film, that came about because I’d been to a friend’s house and couldn’t sleep, so I put the Turner Classic Movie channel on and watched several Humphrie Bogart films one after another. The next day I got to thinking that I’d quite like to study film rather than English. The thinking behind it was, that if you study Film and you get stuck with a film you don’t like, it’s over in a couple of hours, but if it’s a book you really don’t like and can’t get on with, it could take a couple of months to read. Looking back now, it was more out of laziness that I ended up studying film, there’s only a hundred years or so of film, it’s not like English. I got totally immersed in Film, I got my degree, my masters and then I ended up working at film magazines for a while.”
Whilst all of this new life of University was happening and thoughts of music had pretty much left Matt’s head, a chance encounter with a new group of people would lead him back into music, but it would be as far removed from the music he was playing with Censored as you could possibly imagine: “I fell in with a crowd and ended up making some Hip-Hop records, then one of them got heard by an editor at NME, he had no idea of the history of who I was or my music background, but he heard this one record that we did, which was a real soulful kind of record with rappers on it and by some weird twist of fate, we ended up opening for Dizzy Rascal and Jesse J. We went on and made two albums and two EP’s, they got some press interest and we ended up playing small festivals, we did a small tour playing strange places though, places like RAF High Wycombe, it was just madness really. But by Christmas 2010, four out of the seven rappers I’d worked with were in prison, fraud and GBH were the main things they were convicted of.”
Now Matt is back doing the kind of music he knows best and he’s found that the advancement of social media since the days of myspace has been a good thing: “I don’t really share a lot of what I do, but I do have a good following on Twitter. Weirdly, one of the reasons has been because of Sheffield Wednesday. I’d signed up for an account and at the time Stephen Fry had a Norwich City badge as his profile picture, so as I was new to it, I figured that that was the thing to do, so I just bunged a Sheffield Wednesday badge on to a picture of me and the next thing I knew, I’d got a few thousand followers just from talking about football and Sheffield Wednesday, this was all before I got back into music, Twitter was just something that intrigued me at the time.”
Since signing up for Twitter and using it as a platform to spread the word of his music, Matt has made the conscious decision to only post positive thoughts, rather than just the everyday happenings of his life, which so many people seem to feel the need to do, his thought being that if you are a nice, positive person, people with gravitate towards you, but negativity will move people away. Why for instance, would the world need to know that you’ve just banged your knee on the oven door, or to know how far you’ve been on your latest training run, or what your dinner looks like. So he made the vow that he would only post if it was positive, or more importantly, necessary. And maybe this is why he now finds himself with over eleven and a half thousand followers.
He also founds it funny that he has come as far as he has with this incarnation of his music career without the help of a record label, agent or a PR person behind him, it’s all been done off his own back. He does have a publishing company who publish his songs, but they came to him after he’d written, recorded and released them as EP’s. As for distribution, he does it the old fashioned way, sitting at home and copying the songs from a master copy onto cd’s whilst watching a film. It was this return to the grass roots of music that got Matt to love playing music again and getting him back onto the music scene that he left behind when Censored split up. His youtube account has nearly four thousand subscribers and his latest video has had over twelve thousand views in less than two weeks, with most of his videos having views into five figures. He’s been in the top 30 on iTunes download chart, yet there are artists and bands out there who have an army of people behind them who are pushing on social media yet they struggle to get half of that amount. He won the Midlands Independent Music Award for Best Male Solo Artist and had to go to a radio interview in Birmingham, the winners of the other awards were there with him, but they had a whole different outlook to him: “They were all there with their cameras taking selfies for their Instagram pages and videos for Vine, and I just sat there baffled by it all, they were about to go out on the radio so they didn’t need to be doing all of that, not everything you do has to be shared with the world.”
Whilst he fully understands that social media is for, he is happy to get away for a while and leave it behind. He and his girlfriend will often get away to the countryside and away from all forms of communication and write songs, with around eighty per cent of his music being written in Snowdonia National Park on top of a hill and the last thing on his mind is to get out his phone and post pictures of himself and his guitar. His view is that you should write your songs, release them, then go out and play them and I find this approach refreshing. Back in the days before the internet, or even when the internet was in it’s infancy, the only way to fond out about a band you liked was to buy Kerrang, The NME, Melody Maker or even Smash Hits, bands were mysterious and this was what set them apart from the rest of us. Nowadays every aspect of a bands life is open to the fans: “The mystique of bands has gone nowadays and that’s a bit sad.”
Although Matt now is himself a singer/songwriter, he does think that there are too many of them around and that it’s becoming a bit boring: “I don’t listen to acoustic music myself, the reason I do it myself was out of necessity, I was living in Leicester, but didn’t have anyone to form a band with, so I just went out with my guitar and it just became a thing for me, like most other things it just sort of happened that I ended up on the road and making a living from it. I am now in the process of putting a band together, because of the last two years and the recognition that my name has got, but I don’t see it being my name on a poster. I’ll put the next single out as Matt Henshaw, the ones after that will be with a band, that’s where I want it to be.”
“I listen to bands myself, this morning it was Cream and Blind Faith. There’s not a lot of modern music that I’ve got into, but I’ve got into three bluesy rock bands, one called Sky Valley Mistress, they’re great, one from Derby called Eva Plays Dead, I really like them and then there’s Gem and the Deadheads. Because of the music I play, people don’t believe that I like heavier bands, they all just presume that I just listen to acoustic music, the amount of times I’ve been asked if I like or play any Ed Sheeran is madning. The first radio interview I did I was asked what I thought of him and because I had been living under a rock I hadn’t heard of him so couldn’t give an opinion, the presenter thought I was taking the mickey and being disrespectful to him, but I honestly didn’t know who he was, on my way in to the station I’d been listening to Ella Fitzgerald. So after the interview I went and looked into who he was and obviously he’s brilliant and smashes it at what he does, but it’s just not what I listen to. I still listen to a lot of 60’s music, but to try and pigeon hole what I listen to is impossible.”
Over ten years since Matt first started out in music with Censored, he says that he’s never really made any money from music, he earns enough to put petrol in his car and pay his bills and that this is enough for him to be happy, he isn’t materialistic, or after the biggest and newest gadgets, just being happy is enough.
Before setting out on his solo career he was working at Leicester University and his girlfriend knew he was going home miserable every night and during a night sitting out in their back garden, the conversation turned to Matt giving up his job and going into music full time. It took eight hard months to get his first paid gig, but they stuck it out and got through it and after eighteen months he was getting decently paid gigs. But this brings a side to music that he isn’t so keen on; The financial side of things, invoices, tax returns, but it all comes with the territory and despite this side of it, Matt wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
After all of his hard work to make it pay off in the UK, he now finds himself having sold his music to every continent in the world, with the exception of Antarctica, and he finds that amazing. It was through this that a promoter from Brehmen in Germany found him and offered to book thirty gigs for him, an offer which he was only too happy to accept. He kept it quiet for a long time, pretty much right up until he was playing the first gig. This comes from knowing that so many people in the music business promise the earth, but don’t always deliver and he didn’t want to look daft telling people about his big German tour, only for it all to fall through at the last minute. But whilst he was sitting on the news of the German tour, he was contacting people in France, Holland and Belgium and booking more shows himself to keep himself out on the road and taking his music to as many people as he could and in the end, he stayed out in Europe for five weeks, playing every single night and playing anywhere that would have him, theatres, a museum, a motorway service station, an ambulance station and even a refugee centre. He puts the playing at strange venues down to the fact that he is really bad at saying ‘No’. And he says of that time that it was the most mentally, spiritually and financially rewarding tour he’s done.
I’ve worked with bands from Germany and also English bands that have toured Germany. The thing that is always talked about, is how much better musicians are respected and looked after by the venues and promoters over there, with bands not only being paid, but being fed and kept in drinks for their time at each show. Whilst this does happen in the UK, it’s very few and far between, why this should be I don’t know, maybe more people go out to live shows over there, or venues just have bigger and better budgets than their UK counterparts.
One night from this tour would stand out in Matt’s memory. He played one night to two hundred students at Brehmen University and halfway through the first song, the P.A cut out, after a few seconds of wondering what to do, he just carried on playing and the whole room was silent whilst he played. During the performance, a hat was passed around the audience, it filled with money and was then placed at his feet as a thank you for keeping going, something he says that probably wouldn’t happen in this country. But he was quick to point out that it wasn’t the case everywhere.
Contrary to popular belief, life on the road isn’t one long party, there can be hours of mind numbing boredom which you have to fill and now he is tea total and touring on his own, his time on the road isn’t taken up by drunken pranks or annoying whoever happened to be driving, so he finds other ways to fill his time on the road. Now, instead of drinking the days away, he uses his passion of football to pass the time, by visiting stadiums of clubs that he’s never been to and taking in games as and when he can. One of his first games was watching German Bundesliga team Schalke play and being amazed at how little it cost him, saying that the price of a ticket, replica shirt, food and drink came to under €50, a price that would probably just buy a ticket into an English Premier League ground.
He also attributes the high cost of going to live shows in the UK to the down turn in crowd numbers at smaller shows. People these days tend to save their money and go to a four or five big shows a year, but with arena shows costing anything from £50 and above, you could go to ten gigs at one of your smaller local venues for the same price of one arena concert and help support the music industry from the bottom.
Matt now finds himself in a transition period as his solo career becomes a full band project and a whole new chapter is about to begin on his road through life:
“I want it to be the best it possibly can be, I want people to come to one of our shows and see a spectacle, not in explosions or anything like that, but a really tight and professional band. It’s going to be a lot harder this time round. Last year I was in six different countries and met so many incredible musicians and I’d love to be able to go “I want that drummer from Germany, that guitarist from Belgium” but the logistics of that would be a nightmare. I’m not as lucky as I was with Censored, all of us living within five minutes of each other, now I’ve got to work hard to find people I like and want to be around for six months at a time, but I’ll get there.”
To find out more about Matthew Henshaw go to his website www.matthenshaw.com
His new single “Easier” is out on September 10th.