“I wanted the album to give a sense of a journey to this point, from busking ‘til now. I suddenly had a lot to say. People will judge if it’s any good or not, but for me, it felt entirely natural.” – Damian Lewis
You can read Part I here. We had a cliffhanger at the end of Part I… Steve Abbott introduced Damian to Giacomo Smith, one of the best jazz musicians working in London today…
…and then Jay Rayner of Out to Lunch podcast let the world know about Damian performing Dr. John’s “Such a Night” with Giacomo and his band Kansas Smittys – and asked Damian 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 said that the band is full of very talented and equally welcoming musicians, Damian added:
“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…”
Damian admitted on Out to Lunch podcast that he is typically very cautious about his artistic choices, and is not very comfortable getting out of his comfort zone. But now that Damian and the band have put a bunch of songs together, 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 our guy sing “Such A Night” here and line up to take your shot – if you can. He is fabulous 🙂 Damian says this video is an earlier version of “Such A Night” that he and the band worked on. And I have good news for you that a reworked version will be a bonus track on Mission Creep. Yay!
I should have known that this music stuff was serious as soon as I heard Damian talking about his personality on The Anfield Wrap podcast but I missed it… I am saying it like Carrie Mathison saying “I missed something once, I won’t, I can’t, let that happen again” 😀 I guess I was so distracted by Damian’s tease about a potential return to Billions on the podcast that I missed the following:
“Well, you might have guessed but my personality… I’m not the kind of personality to paint a painting and put it in a cupboard. There are thousands of people like that. They like art and creativity but then they are shy and embarrassed to show it, display it, afraid of failure… For me, I wanna cross the touchline, I wanna get out, I wanna be in the middle in front of seventy-two thousand people.”
Back to when Damian met Giacomo: what happened there? Damian shares his story on Katie Brewer’s Bandwidth Conversations Podcast:
“We’ve been talking, playing music together… He introduced me to a whole bunch of brilliant jazz musicians, but jazz musicians who can play everything, and enjoy what we’re playing… which is sort of hybrid, they’re my songs, I’ve written an album… you know I wrote them on my guitar, I wrote them on piano a bit… really average piano player but I’m a guitarist for that matter…”
Given that everything started with Steve Abbott introducing Damian to Giacomo Smith, it is no surprise that several Kansas Smitty’s musicians accompany Damian in live performances: Dave Archer on guitar, Joe Webb on keyboard, Giacomo Smith on alto sax and clarinet, Will Sach on bass, Will Cleasby on drums and Kitty Liv on harmonica and vocals. THEY ARE FABULOUS MUSICIANS!
And I figured at the very first gig at Omeara that most of the songs Damian wrote were based on his own life experiences and several songs such as Little One, Hole in my Roof, Wanna Get Old in Paris, and She Comes stood out as tributes to Helen. I wrote about it here. And later Damian shared with The Mirror that his album covered many life experiences and that one didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what some of these experiences were.
Here is Damian’s music video for his most recent single “Makin’ Plans” from his live gig at Hoxton Hall on March 3, 2023. It is a crackin’ rock’n’roll tune. It is about a man who literally witnesses his plans dying in a major car accident. I may be way off but I think the song is a metaphor for many of Damian’s own plans dying with Helen’s passing. It is very brave of him to tell the story in a fun way. And the song ends in a hopeful tone that the man has got new plans and the horizon is calling him down the only road he knows.
But where did this song-writing come from? Damian shares in an interview with The Guardian that he and Giacomo started playing some covers, and Giacomo at some point suggested they write songs together.
“I started writing and found out there was lots that I actually did want to write, and before we knew it we had a record’s worth of songs. We’ve ended up with a rootsy, jazzy, rock’n’rolly, singer-songwritery-type album. If that doesn’t put you off, nothing will. But it’s been really good fun. Really good fun.”
But then he gives Kati Brewer in their fantastic conversation on Bandwidth Conversation podcast a more detailed account of how he sat down to write songs…
“Everyone’s probably sat down tried to write a song. I think I tried to write songs in my 20s, and just thought those are terrible. And I must never play those to anyone. So, and then life… you know I was married to Helen. And Helen and I were very much, I suppose, an acting couple. We didn’t try to be that. We just were… And we loved acting, and Helen loved acting and the theatre world as do I. And I think I went further and further away from it. Well, I always had guitars in the house, picked them up and played when people don’t want you to… ‘ Oh My God he picked up his guitar again…’
…but all the busking was gone, and that was in the past… and then I think the truth of it is… it was that… Sitting around during Covid… thinking… well, so many things we can do when we come out of this… just rethink things a bit, we now have a chance to sit down and reflect… That’s what happened… And then, I mean, really, just bluntly and sort of nakedly, Helen died… Helen died which she was going to do because she wasn’t well for a long time… And then I just started writing songs… They just poured out of me at that point. It seemed, suddenly, like the most natural thing in the world to do, to be honest. Unquestionably, the album is connected to Helen in that time that will be self-evident. And I feel now totally comfortable… the other people will say if they are any good or not… but I feel totally comfortable doing it and confident doing it… that I never had before.
Here is Zaragoza from Damian’s live gig at Hoxton Hall on March 3, 2023. Damian takes us back to the time he used to busk. Yes, he did the tube, too; but this song is about the time he put a tent and a guitar on his motorbike and was off to busking in market squares of Southern France and Spain.
He judges badly one night as he crosses the Pyrenees. He builds his tent in the middle of an electric storm, and realizes, as darkness falls, that water is coming through the roof… as the storm rages, he wonders if this could be the end…
I’ve got rocks in my back, and spiders in my bed
The Gods in the sky throw lightning at my head
Mary Jane and JJ are my only friends
I’m looking for a start so this can be the end
Damian says that his intention was to have some fun, but the incredible musicians he works with said the songs were good and then record companies showed interest. And all of a sudden he was asking himself if he was really doing this 🙂
“And I am. Because it’s turned out to be really good fun, and .. but then you know of course you’re more exposed when you make those decisions. But you know I’m now ‘fuck it…'”
YESSSSSS!!!! THAT IS THE ATTITUDE!!! When you see Damian on stage you immediately know that he is having the time of his life and I LOVE IT!!!
And, you know, people, critics to be precise, have already given thumbs up for he music. Praises and accolades vary from “a compelling performer apparently in his element” (Neil McCormick) as he “wowed the crowd” (John Bungey) to “a natural flare for the stage as a musician, you would think he had been a touring artist for years” (Hannah Compton). And Decca Records co-presidents, Tom Lewis and Laura Monks, say they are delighted that Damian decided to sign with them:
“His songwriting is poetic, poignant and deeply personal. The album, recorded just down the road in Kentish Town, has a raw and refreshing honesty to it. Damian really opens his heart and invites us in. It is a thing of great beauty.”
Here is Damian’s music video of his first single Down on the Bowery filmed at Brooklyn Bowl in New York City – very fitting for a song that our favorite guy wrote in New York. And when you hear the lyrics, you immediately know that Damian is a true song-writer. In fact, this applies to all his originals.
Press your skin to my skin
Join to me like a twin
Lay me open walk right in
I fall in you lose or win
Look at this guy signing his first album!!! Hey Damian, I am order #1010. You can call me TenTen! 😀
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) May 22, 2023