Don’t Tell Me “Real Music” Is Dead When Jacob Banks Is Selling Out Venues Worldwide

 

Words & Photography: Miles Holder

You hear it all the time, “oh real music is dead”, “the industry isn’t what it used to be”. You hear it from those joyfully reminiscing on the heydays of Aretha, Gladys and Muddy Waters, you hear it from those inside and outside of the industry, and of course, you hear it from people who just want to feed into the false economy that vocal talent isn’t worth dust anymore. I say this to anyone we ever interview, I say it to anyone who thinks themselves an authority in the music industry, and I say it to you if you believe that young musicians aren’t slaying it night after night with powerhouse vocal performances – believe me, they are.

You might be asking why this article comes across so hyped up, what life-changing performance did I witness that has led to this passionate “come at me bro” review? Well, I’ll tell you! It was Jacob Banks playing to a soldout crowd at London’s Village Underground.

Opening act Joy Crookes, while small in stature captivated the room with her sultry and hypnotising singing voice. While only 18 years of age, the Elephant & Castle native has the stage presence of an artist far beyond her years. Exclaiming “I do this all for fun” as she played arguably her best-known tracks ‘Sinatra’ and ‘Bad Feeling’. It was her final track, ‘Power’, which truly set the crowd ablaze. In her soft speaking voice Joy began by telling the crowd, “I think that all artists should stand for something”, but ‘Power’ isn’t a whaling battle-cry anthem you might expect from the name, nor did it need to be for the message conveyed. Joy’s vocal control and her delicate grip on the melody had the crowd clinging on to every note she sang. Lyrics ‘You got bitches, you got hoes, We the people, and we know, All we want is to be accepted’, delivered so eloquently arrested every listener in the room and lyrics ‘I sing, you can’t take my power’ left us all shouting a resounding “Amen!”

Then, came the main event, Mr Jacob Banks. Starting his set with ‘Worthy‘ from his 2013 record ‘The Monologue’, (a track I presumed he would end on) it was only the beginning of what would be an epic show. We’ve all come to love Jacob for his soulful voice and blues revival on recorded tracks but live; there’s a whole new layer of grit in his voice that I for one hadn’t heard before. On the small stage, Jacob brought the audience to church, becoming the church chorus, conductor, alto, bass, soprano, pews and all. When ‘Unholy War’ rolled around, hands instinctively shot up and waved as Jacob boomed ‘Wade in the water’. Jacob also played a new and unreleased tracks, a fast-paced jazz infused track leading into an impressive guitar solo by Daniel Byrne. The whole performance was sublime, ‘Rainy Days’ merged into ‘Dear Simone’ so seamlessly and when Jacob returned for his encore, ‘Cahinsmoking’ left us all in awe.

While Jacob’s music transcends any generation divide, I do want to point out from what I could see; the crowd was 80%, young people. Young people who happily parted with their money to listen to Jacob’s and Joy’s FAULTless voices. Two days later and the whole performance still echoes in my mind, and I’m sure the same goes for everyone there – “real” vocalists still exist, and not in the dark corners of dilapidated blues houses! They’re selling out large venues in London to New Orleans and if anyone tells you that “real musicians” don’t exist in modern music, tell them that on the contrary, they’re just not looking in the right places.

Bundle of Joy: Burgeoning London-based songstress Joy Crookes Releases Third Single ‘Bad Feeling’

Despite being only 18-years young, seemingly everyone from the established indie blogosphere right through to Brooklyn Beckham are sitting up and taking notice of London-based trip-hop, soul-infused singer, Joy Crookes. Having released 60’s-soul inspired, twilight hour baroque-pop ballads in Sinatra and New Manhattan last year, Crookes releases third single ‘Bad Feeling’, a musical shift towards jazz-enthused, R&B grooves showing a tongue-in-cheek side to the singer who wears a myriad of cultural influences on her sleeve.

Citing a range of genres and artists as seemingly polarising as Lauryn Hill, Nancy Sinatra, The Clash, and Van Morrison as inspirations, Crookes’ has developed a mature, multi-faceted sound which bodes well for her forthcoming debut EP release, produced by Tev’n (SBTRKT, Celeste, Lily Allen). Sold out shows last year included a packed-to-the-rafters Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, with forthcoming gigs at Bushstock Festival in London and a performance at Live Nation’s renowned Source Night on 14th July offering must-see opportunities to see a star in the making.

We recently sat down with Crookes to discuss her intriguing background and how her influences have filtered into a distinctly signature sound.

Joy Crookes Bad Feeling

 

Many people are linking your music so far to Lauryn Hill – would you say that was a fair assessment?

I love Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, Grace Jones. I love artists that seem real or authentic, so I can say I love their authenticity. I wouldn’t say I was directly inspired by Lauryn Hill. I think it’s more complex than saying I’m inspired by one female artist. I think it’s more that people want to understand what you’re about before they listen to you, and sometimes you get comparisons. I never thought I’d be compared with Lauryn Hill, it’s crazy! I grew up on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but I’m from a very eclectic background of music.

What would you say are the most prominent influences from your background?

I’m from South London, which is just a melting pot of cultures. I’m part of one of the biggest Latino communities in London, which is linked to Caribbean and West African communities, while my Dad is Irish. I’m an ethnic chic so I understand the comparisons with someone like Lauryn Hill, but when I’m making music I tend to think more of Nancy Sinatra and Eartha Kitt. I’m quite an emotional person, and I’ve had things happen with family and mental health issues so I think when you suffer experiences like that from an early age, you observe things differently and it can make you quite mature. You feel ten times more than anyone else feels at the time.

Tell us a bit more about the creative process behind your latest single ‘Bad Feeling’?

It’s very tongue in cheek and I wrote the chorus part in that vein. Eartha Kitt is incredible and she’s so cheeky, when she does her videos she looks like a lion or a tiger, so Bad Feeling was much the same in that it was a cheeky song and it was done very quickly. It’s a surface level song, you know, we’ve all been through it. It’s not about immigration or anything, it’s simple. I wrote it during a writing camp and there was a funny moment during the experience that I exaggerated and made it about myself.

You hear a lot of songs taking about relationships where the protagonist is worried the other person is going to leave them, while your take on romance on ‘Bad Feeling’ is more about not being sure of yourself.

I am such a cheeky character but I don’t think you grasp that on New Manhattan or Sinatra. New Manhattan reflects more my Irish emotional side, while Bad Feeling represents the charm and whit of my mum who moved over from Bengal when she was just sixteen. She inspired me to be memorable and I think when you meet people like that you get excited, so I wanted to reflect that side of my personality in the song, and show people that I can be funny and quite cheeky as well as being emotional.

 

Going back to previous releases such as New Manhattan and Sinatra, there seems to be a lot of dreamy, emotive, Lana Del Rey inspired imagery on those songs, was this a conscious direction in sound?

The one thing I can say about Lana is that if David Lynch made music the result would be her, with the themes of drugs and sex. I’m hugely into Massive Attack, as I grew up listening to the whole Bristol music scene. Their song ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ is a good example, where they have a soul singer with an orchestra and Latin percussion backing her. There is so much going on and so many influences in their music that I couldn’t replicate everything. New Manhattan is a commercially sounding track, but the guitar does have that Lynchian/Nancy Sinatra sound, while the drum beat is straight out of a Massive Attack song.

It’s amazing to be compared to people like Lana Del Rey because that means people are trying to understand the music from a commercial degree, but then if you look in more detail and learn the reasons behind why I added certain influences then it’s a little more complex. I’m 18 years old and a girl from South London who is sponge when it comes to life experiences, so anything my family or my boyfriend says, or even the music I listen to has an impact, so I’m as much of a melting pot as my location and cultural upbringing.

What’s the story behind New Manhattan?

It’s a place in Brussels that I visited with my boyfriend, and I just felt compelled to write an observational story about the area, which quickly developed into a love song. There was a red-light district, so that’s where the lyric ‘I took a picture with my eyes, and I’m frightened of girls in plastic heights’ came from. It hurt to be in an area like that and realise that a country home to the European Commission can also have streets that are filled with hookers and others which are family street markets in contrast, so it was quite difficult for someone who hadn’t been in an area like that before. The general idea with the song was that you can be anywhere and be comfortable as long as you have the right person next to you.

Although it’s still early days, what do you hope to achieve in music?

I would like to be known as iconic, and to feel like I’ve made a difference to people. My favourite subject at school was history, and I had this brilliant history teacher who taught me about different cultures and mental health, which was quite inspirational while growing up in Elephant and Castle at the time. The main issue I remember her talking about was American history and the misuse of power, which can happen to everyone no matter how big or small. I always wanted to write songs from the perspective of being a woman with colour and how it has shaped my life.

Words Jamie Boyd

 

Stream Joy’s new track BAD FEELING below: