Ge­orge Ezra tells Jim Car­roll about the road from early -bird din­ers to ma­jor la­bels

From ser­e­nad­ing early-bird din­ers and us­ing his dis­count rail­card to tour Bri­tain to record­ing his de­but al­bum, singer-song­writer Ge­orge Ezra has packed a lot into his young life. He de­clines to give Jim Car­roll job ad­vice

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

Ge­orge Ezra doesn’t keep a count of the gigs he’s done, but he does re­mem­ber some more clearly than oth­ers. Like a gig in Derry last year when he ended up play­ing in a restau­rant sur­rounded by din­ers who got more than they bar­gained for with their early-bird menus.

“They stuck me in the cor­ner be­cause they didn’t know what to do with me. I felt so bad. I mean, if I was out for a meal with some­one, the last thing I’d want is a kid shout­ing and yelling down a mi­cro­phone for 20 min­utes.”

On the other hand, those restau­rant-go­ers may one day talk about the time Ge­orge Ezra sound­tracked their soup and pasta. Ahead of the re­lease of his de­but al­bum, Wanted On Voy­age, and with a BBC Sound of 2014 im­pri­matur al­ready in his back pocket, the singer- song­writer with the deep, dis­tinc­tive voice and the win­ning way with folk, blues and pop is find­ing favour in many quar­ters.

All of this up­ward mo­men­tum means he’s no longer tour­ing on trains, for in­stance. “I spent most of my last year on trains go­ing every­where to play. I had a 16- to 25-year-old rail­card which meant I got a 30 per cent dis­count on fares, which was very handy. The only downside was I al­ways had to get the last train back to Bris­tol.”

Ezra was dab­bling in mu­sic long be­fore he re­alised it was for him. Grow­ing up in Hert­ford, an older sis­ter in­tro­duced him to var­i­ous in­die bands. His days in school saw him sur­rep­ti­tiously lis­ten­ing to Bob Dy­lan with the head­phone ca­ble tucked down his sleeve. By night, he’d play in cover bands and throw shapes. “I’d be like a skinny run­ner bean on­stage with my shaved head and a hor­ri­ble blue gui­tar I’d bor­rowed from a mate.”

It was a move to Bris­tol to study at the BIMM mu­sic col­lege which brought ev­ery­thing into sharp fo­cus. “I left school at 16 and, at first, was work­ing in a sweet shop and go­ing to col­lege to study mu­sic, but I think I was just chanc­ing it. Why was I study­ing mu­sic? I don’t know. I don’t think I would have lasted much longer in school be­cause I was not aca­demic in that way. Like a lot of kids, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Even now, I don’t know.

“It was when I moved to Bris­tol and BIMM that I re­alised it was only go­ing to hap­pen if I gigged as much as I could and let people know about me. I had to make a con­scious de­ci­sion to get off my arse and do it.”

Aside from gig­ging when­ever and wher­ever he could, Ezra also honed his song­writ­ing smarts. “Son­i­cally and struc­turally, it was the blues and pop mu­sic which al­ways did it for me, but it’s al­ways about the lyrics and sto­ries for me. I lis­ten to the world around me and talk to people and that sparks off some­thing. Ear­wig­ging is great. I worked in a pub and a fac­tory and it was nice to lis­ten in and find some­thing in that. A con­ver­sa­tion like this might even in­spire a song down the road.”

It wasn’t long be­fore Ezra was spotted and signed by Sony’s Columbia la­bel. He had very ro­man­tic no­tions of what a record deal meant at first. “When I first signed the deal, I was un­der the im­pres­sion that they were go­ing to stick me in front of a mi­cro­phone that very day, record 10 songs and re­lease it the next morn­ing. That’s how it went for Bob Dy­lan, right?

“That was ex­tremely naive of me and I know that now. I’ve learned so much over the last two years about how the in­dus­try works. You have to adapt. There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween liv­ing with three other mu­si­cians in a tiny flat in Bris­tol and telling each other that your mu­sic is the best thing you’ve ever heard, and try­ing to make an al­bum with Columbia Records.”

The ar­rival of the la­bel upped the ante on ev­ery level, es­pe­cially in terms of trust­ing other people. “If you sign a record deal, you have to be will­ing to work with the la­bel and other people and un­der­stand they’ve in­vested in you and that they have a say. You have to ac­cept that they know what they’re do­ing and are work­ing for the best of both par­ties.

“You find a lot of muso types in mu­sic col­lege go­ing ‘fuck the man, you don’t want to be on a ma­jor la­bel’, but I think that’s just talk. If some­one said to you ‘we love what you do and want to put it on wax for you and re­lease it’, why would you say no? I un­der­stand some people will and that there are dif­fer­ent kinds of la­bels, but I do think if you’re will­ing to sign a busi­ness con­tract – and that’s what it is – you then have the time and lux­ury to think only about the songs and gigs, which are the most im­por­tant things any­way.” When word reached home that Ezra had signed a record deal, the lo­cals as­sumed he was rolling in cash. “I think people ex­pected me to ar­rive into Hert­ford town on a Satur­day night in a Bent­ley. They’d be go­ing ‘you must be loaded’. They couldn’t be more wrong, man. Ev­ery day I ap­pre­ci­ate how lucky I am to do what I do, but there’s a lot of work in­volved in it.

“I’ve also found that mu­sic is the only in­dus­try where ev­ery­one has a bloody opin­ion. I have friends who are labour­ers or who work in fac­to­ries or who are in col­lege and when I go home, the amount of ad­vice I get given by them is un­real. Like, I wouldn’t ad­vise them about their jobs!”

Wanted On Voy­age is out on June 27th. Ge­orge Ezra plays the Lon­gi­tude fes­ti­val, Mar­lay Park, Dublin, in July

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