Damian Lewis and his fabulous band had a special little gig at Rough Trade East in London followed by Damian signing the copies of ‘Mission Creep’ vinyls and CDs gig attendees received with their ticket purchase. One good surprise of the evening was the pre-gig chat between Damian and his friend, collaborator and producer Giacomo Smith about the musical journey they have had in the last three years.
I was very lucky to make yet another lightning trip to London, this time from Turkey (my summer home base), with a shorter flight time and almost no jet lag! And I plan to share with you every single detail I remember from this very special event. ARE YOU READY?
To set the tone of the evening, ladies and gentlemen, here is our rock star making his entrance to the venue… and I’m filming it!
Damian Lewis is in da house! And he’s FIRE!
I hope the following account of the evening does justice to this wonderful event. Without further ado, let us dive into the pre-gig chat.
Damian kicks off the chat saying that his collaboration with Giacomo Smith started with Steve Abbott, Damian’s manager and my hero (I will tell why Steve is my hero later in the more personal post), introducing the two of them. Damian shares that Steve told him Giacomo (or “G” as Damian calls him) might be the best young jazz musician in the country, and that he was right! So Damian and Giacomo get together, and start picking covers and playing ’30s-’40s Swing together thinking that they could sing those classics in a much more swing / jazz form.
Giacomo remembers that their first meeting was a one hour phone call. They got on well, and decided to try stuff together. They started with some old songs such as Dr. John’s “Such A Night” (now a bonus track on Mission Creep) and some music that Giacomo remembers has “face” in the title to which Damian says it would eventually come to him. And as Giacomo tells us about their “30 song” plan where they put 30 songs together and choose a few from those, and then come up with other 30 songs and choose a few from those, and repeat… the song with “face” in the title comes to Damian:
“I’ve accustomed to your face.”
Oh My God. This is a very well-known song from My Fair Lady. And Lady Trader and I would LOVE to see Damian as Prof. Higgins on stage. And you know, with the on-going musical career, a musical may be the logical next step for him, no?
Then Giacomo asks Damian about how song-writing came about and we learn that it was Giacomo that really prompted Damian to start writing songs. Damian tells us that he wrote songs when he was younger without any confidence. He says they were horrible and he threw them away. But when he started again, this time, it felt much more natural, and much more enjoyable. But it also shifted their direction musically. We learn that Damian writes his songs on piano and on his acoustic guitar thanks to his background in busking. And so the songs are ‘rootsy, story-telling, folky, bluesy” that is different from what they started with but they like where they have ended up. They think, and Damian hopes that we will agree, that they have a fantastic blend of “jazz from highly skilled jazz musicians with rootsy, story-telling, folk, rock’n’roll sound, too.”
Giacomo adds that the album captures the essence of the almost three year journey that they have had. It turns out that “Why” was the first song Damian brought as part of the 30-song project, Giacomo played clarinet over it, Damian found it cool, and it is now on the record.
Now Damian asks “G” how it feels to be out of his natural ……. Giacomo responds that he is grateful to Damian for trusting him to do that. Because they started with the idea of a jazz covers record. They were practicing all these jazz covers. And Giacomo is a jazz musician. But he loves all different sounds of music – swing, gospel, blues, basically any sound that contributes to the jazz cannon.
“When you wrote things like “She Comes”, “Umbrella”, and “Makin’ Plans” that’s not something I made before but it’s something I listen to. And this was a really fun thing for me to make something out of it.”
Because, he adds, the music still retains the jazz underpinning.
Damian says that Giacomo has done a beautiful job. He thinks that the record could sound a little bit like a wedding album in which a band plays all kind of different music. And so he and “G” talked about how to make a record that sits and sounds like a whole. And he hopes that the listeners will agree that it does thanks to the instrumentation and arrangements Giacomo and the band brought. Damian appreciates that everyone in the band has contributed in different ways, and they now have a hybrid album – maybe it is difficult to get it on a playlist but he just loves the album for that. He loves that different sounds and different worlds come together in the record and that it is sonically consistent.
“And we’re available for weddings. It’s just that we’re very very expensive. Very top shelf.”
😀 😀 😀
And he says that Damian is still writing music and is coming to rehearsals with fresh ideas. So it looks like this thing is still evolving. So how about Mission Creep 2?
“Yeah. Mission Creeeep. Still creeping. I think there will be another album.”
Damian sees an opportunity in the second album to explore different things. One characteristic of Mission Creep is, because Damian comes from busking, tradition, he and Giacomo agreed to retain an in-the-room, spontaneous feel to it. So they recorded it on tape – no digital recording. And he thinks it gives the album the sound Damian wanted. He doesn’t know at the moment what they will do in the second album. They may continue to do more of the same, or get more adventurous and try different things. They will find out over time.
Giacomo has one last question for Damian about making a first album. We learn that Damian always wants to know what is going on, and he brings great ideas at every stage of the process. And Giacomo was fascinated that something in the album making process always reminded Damian of a particular film he made or a particular director he worked with. So how did he find the process? Was it new and different? Or he was like “oh I get this”?
Damian points out that the members of his band are all conservatoire-trained and so they all speak in music language. And he realized he needed to communicate with the band to describe the music but he was not able to speak in coded music language. But then he remembered something that Mandy Patinkin (Saul Berenson, anyone?) shared with him: When Mandy Patinkin was at Julliard, Leonard Bernstein was teaching there. And Patinkin used to go and sit outside the orchestral rehearsals. And when Bernstein conducted, he did it through imagination. Damian describes it as follows:
“And now you’re coming to a wide apart river, and now the river is flowing faster, ad you can hear the rumble of a waterfall, you’re now on the top of the waterfall, now you’re falling down the waterfall, now you’re dying on the rocks…”
😀 😀 😀
So Damian found a way to talk to everybody like that – imaginatively. And that’s been a fun process for him.
Giacomo asks: Should we do a gig?
And after a short break, Damian and his band welcome us to their special little gig. Here is the set list that I lifted from the stage after the gig.
There is no piano today. They have Phil Donnelly on the base, and Giacomo joins them for half of the gig. Dave Archer on the guitar, Will Cleasby on drums, and Kitty Liv on harmonica and backing vocals as usual. And they play a selection of songs – all originals, no covers – from Mission Creep.
Damian opens the set with his first single “Down on The Bowery”…
“The next song is My Little One… about a fantastic woman.”
“Are you doing alright? Have been to the bar? Had a beer? Sober crowd, I like it… It’d be nice to grow old in Paris…” Here comes “Wanna Grow Old in Paris”…
Damian introduces his band:
“Dave Archer on the guitar! Will Cleasby on the drums! Kitty Liv on harmonica, guitar and backing vocals and winner of the best dress competition! Phil Donnelly on the base! (Giacomo Smith gets on the stage and Damian pretends he flinches) …and Giacomo Smith!”
“The next song is about spies…”
“You heard it here first. Never judge a man by his umbrella.”
“Sometimes you makin’ plans? Sometimes they go to shit… Take it away, Willy.”
Here’s Damian’s third single “Makin’ Plans.”
The last song in the set list is “She Comes.” Damian’s fourth single but, as he has revealed in a recent interview, the first song he wrote.
“‘She Comes’ is the first song I wrote for my debut album, so that makes it…my first song (That I’ve shared with the world, at any rate….). It’s about ghosts, and one ghost in particular. The album has hybrid sounds all through it but this song leans heavily on a folk set up before crescendo-ing with a jazz feel brought by my brilliant band.”
And as he discusses the fantastic music video directed by Nick Murphy who also directed Damian in A Spy Among Friends, Damian adds:
“We hoped to convey the feeling of an abandoned house, of the ghost of the woman that once lived there and a group of friends gathering to celebrate her.”
We all know who that particular ghost is.
The surprise of the evening comes in the encore. Damian typically sings J.J Cale’s “After Midnight” as encore at his gigs; however, this time, he gives us a “sneak preview” to what may possibly be on the second album. This is a NEW Damian original and I am already in love. He did not say the title of the song so I assume it doesn’t have a title at this time.
Here is the line for album signing…
…and believe it or not, Damian made time for everyone – he chatted, signed albums, and did photos. Everyone left Rough Trade East very happy. Here are some happy faces I captured – some of the lovely people I have got to know through Damian: Ellie, Rain, Heather, Tsveti, and yours truly at the signing table with the man of the hour.
And if you want to know how Damian feels about the evening…
.@RoughTrade know how to put on a show. Thanks to everyone who came down to sing along to Mission Creep, you sounded great. Bring on the 11th July at @UnionChapelUK… our biggest London show to date. Tickets below – i'll see you there. https://t.co/ybTjTVUMml pic.twitter.com/TqQ8VMHVzI
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) June 21, 2023
Did I sing along? Totally! I took thousands of steps around Central Park learning the lyrics. I know… I am a real nerd when it comes to Damian 🙂
Now, for those of you who enjoy reading about my catching up shenanigans with Damian, I am happy to report the chat + gig + signing was bookended with some fun moments with our favorite guy. And I cannot thank him enough for playing along every single time. He’s absolutely THE BEST! I will make another post about my personal catching up with Damian in a week to ten days.
In closing, if you have already seen Damian on stage, you already know his gigs are simply fantastic. And if you haven’t seen him yet playing on stage, I hope this post is intriguing enough. Our rock star will have his biggest gig to date at Union Chapel London on July 11. Tickets are selling fast, so grab yours now HERE. See you there!
And if you are in NYC, Damian is bringing Mission Creep to the iconic Mercury Lounge on July 19th. Be there or be square! You can grab your tickets HERE! Sadly, I will not be there since my home base in summer is Turkey, but I know it will be a huge hit!