In an interview with Express, Damian Lewis talks about his lifelong love for guitars. He learnt classical guitar when he was growing up and spent two summers busking in the South of France for a living 🙂
“I was very young, 21, 22, 23, I used to have a motorbike, and I’d drive it down through France and set myself up for a month, play my guitar and sing to people in the street and make money. I’m not a great guitar player but I did learn classical guitar in my teens and then realized that busking was what I wanted to do with that.
I really enjoyed it and at one point could play 60 songs off the top of my head – although they were all songs with very simple chord structures so I didn’t get any better by playing them.
Given that, I played all sorts of things – lots of Beatles, lots of Elvis, the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel. Really, what I was playing was wedding music for really uncool weddings!”
There was a square in Aix-en-Provence where there were five restaurants surrounding a little fountain, and none of the restaurants could get away from me because I’d put myself right in the middle and play to all of them!
The people eating and drinking in the restaurants would pay me in beer, and then they could really never get rid of me because I’d just sit there getting drunker and drunker and drunker.
There were a couple of nights when I’d suddenly look up and the waiters were actually putting the chairs on the tables, and I was still there, playing to nobody, with a line of bottles in front of me. It was a lot of fun – they were good times.”
While he did not pursue music as a career, it turns out Damian still spends money on guitars 🙂
“I’ve just spent quite a lot of money on a new guitar – which means I now have four guitars, which sounds extravagant. It’s a brand-new Martin, a lovely smoked black one, which I picked up in a sale.”
So I bet this is the guitar Damian has mentioned in the interview…
… the one he played when he and Helen were the wedding singers at their friends’ wedding ceremony in Fall 2020 both of them singing Irish songs for the happy couple!
And Damian is giving some guitar love to his kids as well.
“I’ve just bought vintage guitars for my kids. There was one with a picture of Roy Rogers, the cowboy in the 1950s, for my son. The department store Macy’s put out a lot of half-sized guitars called ‘family guitars’ which Roy Rogers had obviously given his name to, and I picked one of those up for my son.
And one for my daughter from the 1930s, which has lovely graphics painted on, either Tahitian or Hawaiian. They’re both very nice.”
It turns out that Damian picked up the guitar again during the lockdown. In fact, when they launched their brilliant FeedNHS Campaign on ….. in spring 2020, Helen said that while she and Manon did a lot of drawing during lockdown, Damian and Gully played a lot of guitar. And we also saw Damian playing “Has anybody seen my girl?” on World Health Day for Hope From Home Campaign – a first-of-its-kind multi-platform digital fundraising event to help fight the impacts of COVID-19.
Well, Damian, we still have a lot of questions about that alligator head on the wall! 😀
We already knew that Damian loved jazz. He talked about his love for jazz as he chose one of his favorite jazz tunes for his Desert Island Discs back in 2014:
“I love jazz. And, when I was courting my lady wife, we went to listen to a lot of jazz, it was really lovely. And… I like the entire spectrum of jazz, but I’ve chosen us a more traditional swing jazz. This guy was really the first jazz super star, he was dead by the time he was 28. And, this is called Goose Pimples… It’s a fantastic track and it would remind me of jazz clubs with Helen.”
And towards the end of last year, Damian introduced us to his new favorite jazz band, Kansas Smitty’s who play at a bar named after the band. Yes, in their own words, it is a band and it is a bar 🙂
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) October 31, 2020
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) December 9, 2020
My money is on guitar!
— Fan Fun Damian Lewis (@FanFunDamian) December 9, 2020
So Gingersnap and I tried to get into the bottom of this right away: Piano, Vocals, or Guitar? And my money was totally on the guitar!!!
Well, I was wrong.
We were ultimately able to find out about the music Damian played with Kansas Smitty’s only when we listened to him talk on Out to Lunch podcast with Jay Rayner about how picking up the guitar again during the quarantine and coming together with the band.
Damian says that it is glorious luck that he has been thrown together with Giacomo Smith (Giacomo – Kansas Smitty’s band leader) and the Kansas Smitty’s Band. And that he met them in the “most improbable way.” He talks about his busking days.
“I used to be a busker before I became an actor. And I did it not ’cause I was going to be a professional busker but because I learnt the guitar I learnt a whole lot of songs. I used to play on the tube. There was nothing cutting edge about what I did at all… If you wanted to hear Hotel California, I played Hotel California… You know, if you wanted to hear a Beatles song or a David Bowie song I played it, too…
…I had beautiful beautiful times doing it in the summers. And I didn’t get any better at the guitar… Because as long as I could dash out about 60 tunes loudly over a hat and people would bring me beers from the good patrons of the local restaurants, I was happy.”
Cut to six or seven years ago: Damian was talking to some people about doing a musical (there were in fact rumors about him doing ‘Me and My Girl’ on West End) and they asked him if he would like to guest on Joe Stilgoe’s Jazz and Blues Show on BBC2. Damian sang ‘Me and My Girl’ on the show.
Another guest on the program was Cerys Matthews and her husband Steve Abbott, a well-known music manager-agent, was in the audience. Abbott was impressed with Damian singing a jazz standard and the two of them talked about whether there could be an opportunity to work together. But then Damian was doing Homeland and he was not able to commit to a music project at the time.
But when he picked up the guitar again during the lockdown, to keep himself entertained, Abbott popped up in Damian’s mind and he wondered if Abbott would still be interested in doing something together. And when he gave him a call, Abbott told him that he just emailed someone at Decca about Damian the other day (serendipity or what?!?!) and that he knew what he wanted to do with Damian: So it is Abbott who introduced Damian to Giacomo Smith who. And Damian has been noodling around with Giacomo and the band since and having a great time.
Jay Rayner lets the world know about Damian performing Dr. John’s “Such a Night” with the band and asks if the experience was as fun as it looked…
“I was very nervous. As I explained to you, I am a really ordinary busker. What we tried to do is to create a little bit of that New Orleans, I suppose, bar sound… where it just feels like people are having a good time together…”
And when Jay says that the band is full of very talented and equally welcoming musicians, Damian adds:
“They’ve been incredibly kind to me. We’ve introduced different songs to each other, you know, Dr. John… I mean, he is the epigeny of that sort of just laid back, slightly smacked out of my head…”
He admits he is typically very cautious about his artistic choices, and is not very comfortable getting out of his comfort zone. That said, Damian and the band have put a bunch of songs together, and they are talking about maybe putting some tracks down in a recording studio… But he thinks he will be an easy target for some…
“Of course, they will be lining up to take shots as I stick my head above the parapet. Because no one is an easier target than an actor who thinks he can be a bit of a musician. But I don’t want to go off and be a great jazz star, or a pop star, or a rock star. I am an actor, I want to remain in my discipline. This, for me, is something that is just of unbelievable value. It’s so much fun.
What we don’t do very well in this country is we don’t cross-fertilize across the different arts, traditions. And that’s a big shame. And I’ve had some of my favorite times when, for example, I’ve read out, let’s say, a bit of Midsummer Night’s Dream accompanied by the LSO playing Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream which was devised as a concert and words piece. Things like that. You sit around all those musicians. When I did a bit of musical theatre and get to hang out with musicians. So on and so forth. Little installation pieces you might do with art galleries and things like that .They will not take you anywhere. They are not career building things there. But they are lovely curiosities in their own right and you get to see how all the other artists are working in their own disciplines. We’re slow to do it.”
Well, hear Damian sing “Such A Night” here and line up to take your shot – if you can. He is simply fabulous 🙂
I am so hoping that Damian and Kansas Smitty’s can find the time to record a few songs this year and maybe give a concert at some point. Pretty please!!!
Damianista’s update 03/07/2022: Well, I am not sure whether it is a coincidence or Damian saw today’s post and was inspired to tweet about the new album by Kansas Smitty’s… Oh yeah I want to believe the latter is true! 😀
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) March 7, 2022
You can preview the album on Apple Music and here is a nice tune from the album on YouTube. ENJOY!