Anna Young had written a bit of poetry when she was younger. Then, at 18, she decided to take up the guitar, just because she wanted to learn to play it – there was no thought in her mind of writing songs. Then, as she says, “it was as if the music was always inside of me so as soon as I got an instrument in front of me it just happened”.
Now she’s put a band together and – to extend last week’s recruitment theme – she might be interested in getting a drummer.
You might be interested in listening to her music…
Tell me where you’re from and all that stuff.
“I was born in Surrey and brought up in Streatham in south London, went to school in west London and I lived all around London when I left home until I moved to Bristol.”
And where did music come in?
“My mum was a singer, Maxine Young, and she was in a couple of bands in the Sixties, one was She Trinity and the other was Gilded.”
So you took after her then?
“I guess so. Her father was a violinist and her uncle was a cellist, so I guess there’s a musical heritage on that side.”
What sort of stuff were you listening to when you were growing up?
“My dad was quite heavily into jazz so that was always around. Blues stuff… I remembering listening to Billy Joel with my dad. I used to watch Top of the Pops every week. But as I came into my teens my mum introduced me to a few musicians. Someone I really got inspired by was a female singer called Shawn Colvin, she’s a singer songwriter but she’s hard to categorise. It’s not Country… I guess she’s got that sort of Alt-Country sound – but definitely not Country & Western. Stacey Earl, Steve Earl’s daughter, was someone else I really like – she’s a lot more Country.”
What about instruments, what did you learn to play and when?
“When I was little I learnt violin but I gave that up as you do when you’re little. You learn something and then don’t want to play it any more. I did a lot of singing at school, in choirs and I won a couple of solo singing competitions. But I was quite unconfident, quite shy as a teenager. It wasn’t until I left school that I decided I wanted to play guitar so I went out and bought my first guitar.”
So you were already 18.
“Yes, I was kind of late coming to it. It wasn’t a case of, ‘if I want to be a singer I’m going to have to learn guitar’, I just wanted to learn guitar. I didn’t have any notion of writing songs. Up to that point I’d written lines of poetry – or what I deemed to be poetry, it wasn’t actually very good – and I read a lot of TS Elliott. So I started writing things that came into my head, but I had no notion of it being put to music. Then I left school and had this urge to play guitar – I spent a year just playing, teaching myself to play – and then I think song writing came as a natural progression from that.”
If you’re interested in words and can play an instrument it would seem logical that you would be able to write songs – but it isn’t always the case, is it?
“I suppose not, but the extraordinary thing for me was I just knew how to do it, no one has ever taught me. It was as if the music was always inside of me so as soon as I got an instrument in front of me it just happened.”
Did you learn by copying others?
“I think I learned a couple of songs, which means learning chord progressions and then putting it together for your own stuff. Technically I don’t think I’m a great guitarist, but it became a tool to write songs. And because I haven’t actually been taught there’s a lot I don’t know when it comes to playing guitar.
“I tried. I went to a few guitar teachers and had about two lessons each time, but all I wanted was enough to play my own songs. I’m quite impatient when it comes to trying to learn something and I felt, if I can do it myself and it’s enough to get by…
“I like to use minors a lot in my songs, and sometimes I play chords and I have no idea what they are – I just find chords. Songwriting came from just sitting and playing constantly.
“I think there’s a chord that’s called the Devil’s Chord, you may not be able to quote me on this but I think it’s C and F sharp [a hash?], and by putting the two together you get a strange sound. And I realised I’d used it in one of my songs.”
Are you a full-time musician?
“No. I did get close. It’s a difficult thing. There’s part of me that just wants to enjoy music but if it became a job that would be a paradox – because I don’t really enjoy jobs!
“I went to uni but left half way through, further education just didn’t work for me. But in London I worked in record shops and book shops, I worked in a club in Brixton… and all the time I was doing music and playing in a band, backing vocals and playing guitar.
“It was only when I came to Bristol about eight years ago – my sister lived here while the rest of the family went to Southend, so I chose Bristol – that I started focusing on me and my solo stuff.
“I worked in a music studio in Stokes Croft called Artist Studiosand I was helping organise live, on-line gigs and doing a bit of guitar teaching. But I was working in an office as well and it became a bit much. So I started working on the song writing and gigging more, then I went back into office working to get more time gigging.
“It’s really been about getting the confidence, it’s doing live gigs that has got me here, and now I’m feeling much more confident about what I do.”
When did the band happen?
“I’ve always been solo acoustic singer songwriter and the hardest part is finding people to work with. So I was solo up until about six months ago. The band you saw me playing with at the Seven Stars, we’ve only just started playing together, but it’s great. It’s finding people who complement what I do rather than take over, and who don’t mind playing my stuff.
“We’re also in a Neil Young covers band which is great. I’m loving it at the moment and he’s great, he’s definitely inspiring me in terms of songwriting. So for want of a better name my band’s called the Anna Young Band and the tribute band is called Yonder Stand The Sinners, because of his song called Yonder Stands The Sinner.”
You’re not related by any chance?
“No! But my dad’s middle name is Neil, funnily enough.
“The band’s line-up is me on guitar and vocals, Kevin Loomes on guitar and Tim Wade on bass. The covers band has a drummer, but I’d like to get rhythm for my songs.
“I think it depends what gigs I’m doing. At the moment this line-up works for the type of gigs I’m doing, more acoustic and smaller venues. But I’d love to have a drummer. Rhythm is really important to me and to my songs. I have a rhythm in my head when I right, so to have a drummer would be great.”
Any drummers who like Anna’s songs (www.annayoungmusic.com) and Neil Young can apply through Bristol24-7.
Have you recoded anything?
“I recorded an EP back in 2009 called Silly Heart. It’s on my website (see above). I’d love to be able to spend more time on the site but at the moment it’s all about writing, gigging… and having found the band, rehearsing. It takes up a lot of my time. At the time I did the website I got very excited, but I’m not a technical person at all so I think I’m going to have to get some help.
“This year I’d like to record more. As well as the EP, I did a single called Bus To Mexico, last year… but I want to do more recording definitely.”
Have you got any stories about good and bad gigs?
“Some of my London gigs have been interesting. There was one where I told the promoter I’d have a bassist with me but he’d forgotten. So I didn’t have any sound check and five minutes before I went on he suddenly got annoyed that I had anyone playing with me. So he cut my set by 20 minutes – and I’d gone all the way to London for the gig!
It was a bit soul destroying. Much as I love playing in London, because the energy there is different to Bristol… It’s a long journey. I’m generally having to pay to get there, I’m not making money – so you want to get a good set out of it. Now I’m just choosing the best gigs if it involves a trip to London.
“I like gig swaps. I’ve done a gig swap in Cambridge before and I did an impromptu gig in Southend when I was visiting my family. Gig swaps can be good, meeting new musicians – there were some good musicians at the Southend gig as well.
“I’ve also put on a couple of my own gigs and they are some of the most fun because I get to choose who plays and they’ve been really good. I put them on in The Landsdown in Clifton. On one of them I had Paul Nash from North Sea Navigator, Emily Teague played – she’s very good – and a guy called Andy Nowak.
“And a friend of mine called Kimwei, as well. She produced my EP. She’s based in Exeter and we met through a networking thing in Bristol. I played her some of my stuff and she said she could produce it – she was in Oxford at the time and we did it in her home studio there.”
Any other musicians you admire?
“I saw Suzie Latham recently, she was very good. And Juey as well. Ant Noel, Lonely Tourist, there’s just so many… Emily Teague, I’ve mentioned her.”
There seems to be a lot of networking among musicians and they don’t seem to be jealous of each other, is that true?
“At gigs I never feel anything like that. There’s a certain level of competition, but if I hear someone who’s really good it make me want to up my game and get better. But it’s not about jealousy.”
What about other favourite gigs?
“Spring Garden, that was good. Alfie was doing it then. I kind of cut my teeth playing at the Seven Stars and at Mark Venus’s open mics. I like the Stars because I know what sort of audience to expect and Alfie’s one of the best sound people I’ve ever worked with. The sound is so important and what makes me nervous at gigs is when the sound is bad – there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t hear yourself and it can affect your performance.
“I played at The Greyhound in Clifton the other night and that was a very good gig. They’ve converted the back room into a little venue.
“But they all seem to be pubs! I’d love to play different kinds of places. Coming up Ant Noel’s launching a new EP at The Polish Club on Whiteladies and I’m playing as support. I like the Merchant’s Arms too, that’s very cosy.
“But I’d like to play at places like the Folk House or the Grain Barge.
“I’m at the stage now where I’m not as well-known as some of the other musicians on the scene, but I’m working on it. And now I have the band behind me that adds a bit of weight. I’ve always written with a band in mind, I’ve just never had the band. So I have more confidence now.
“The audience can always tell. You have to appear confident so they know they’re in safe hands.”