“I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing the songs I’ve written and been recording for my debut album. Be good to be back on stage, this time with a guitar in my hand.”
You know what I did in the title, don’t you? If you know a certain ginger man who thinks he is the “second coming of Elvis” that is returning to stage with a guitar in hand, you go and title your related post after a lesser known Elvis gem 🙂
So… if you are not living under a rock, you know that Damian returned to stage, this time, with a guitar in hand turning his fantasies into reality. Damian and his band had a fantastic first live gig at Omeara London on August 4, which I reviewed in detail here.
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) August 5, 2022
And for those of you who have not been able to see Damian making music on stage yet, there will be a live gig will at Hoxton Hall in East London on March 3! Tickets are on sale now and we expect Damian and his band to play, like before, our guy’s originals with a few covers thrown in at the upcoming performance.
I came to Damian Lewis fandom thanks to falling in love with his portrayal of Nicholas Brody in Homeland. So it is no surprise that the first musical performance I saw Damian in was a video from Homeland‘s first season wrap party where Damian, with his band Yummy Yummy Yummy, sang for his favorite CIA agent:
But then I saw him play the piano and/or sing/karaoke at parties, talk shows, award ceremonies, charity fundraisers and what have you! And as I read more about him, I found out that Damian has a long history with music.
Damian sang in a chamber choir at a young age — days that he remembers fondly at the Music For Youth Schools Prom at Royal Albert Hall in 2013 where he presented awards to inspirational music teachers:
“It is a really big thrill to give this away to one of the inspirational teachers… When I was roughly your age, 11 or 12, I sang in a chamber choir and had an inspirational teacher, Mr Woodgate, who rearranged Beatles tunes. And so, as an 11 year old I was able to sing Eleanor Rigby and I Love Her and other Beatles tunes in four-part harmony, and it’s a memory I treasure to this day.”
After Beatles came Elvis! The Wilderness Festival program states that “Damian started playing the classical guitar when he was 13 years old. Quickly though, suspecting that he might be the “Second Elvis” he graduated to the steel string acoustic, so that he could sing Elvis in the mirror, without fear of interruption.” 🙂
Damian told Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs back in 2014:
“Up until I was about the age of 18, I thought, I was Elvis, returned, and spent a lot of my time putting shaving foam, oddly, through my hair and relentlessly coiffing my quiff, and any opportunity getting into my skinny pair of black jeans and my winklepickers and my paisley shirt from Kensington market, and this is Elvis.”
You can hear the entire podcast here and Elvis bit is at 04:34.
Even though it seems Damian has given up thinking he is Elvis, returned… He still carries Elvis close to his heart. Well, let’s say our guy just cannot sit still when he sees a piano — it turns out he taught himself how to play — and always has an Elvis song up from his sleeve – the latest being his piano solo at Soccer Aid practice!
Elvis years were followed by busking summers. Damian talked about his lifelong love for guitars as well as the summers he spent busking in the South of France in an interview with Express:
“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.”
And he 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.”
I bet this is the guitar Damian 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 seems that as he was able to earn money from acting, Damian put his music on the back burner but he formed bands on film sets, kept playing the guitar and singing privately.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, Damian sang on Homeland! And not only with his Homeland band Yummy Yummy Yummy at the Season 1 wrap party but also on the set with wonderful Mandy Patinkin: Now, for those of you that do not know of other incredible talents Saul Berenson has next to spying… Mandy Patinkin is a tenor and a voice artist who is first and foremost known for his work in musical theater, in particular the works of Stephen Sondheim and he won a Tony Award for his role in the original Broadway production of Evita!
When asked by Entertainment Weekly about the most challenging and thrilling moments on Homeland Set during the first season, here is what Damian says:
“…the most challenging of all was the lie detector scene and Mandy Patinkin was there and we tried to do an a capella version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” That was the most thrilling.”
Remember that scene?
“Have you ever been unfaithful to your wife?”
Haha and then Damian and Mandy sing Bohemian Rhapsody and celebrate Sergeant Brody’s passing the polygraph test with flying colors? 😀
And when asked about who has the better singing voice:
“Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re even asking! Mandy. He sat me down yesterday. I started humming a tune from Into the Woods. And he was like, “Oh my God keep singing that! I’ll come in with my part!” Then he was coaching me. I was getting the notes wrong. He was trying to put me in touch with singing teachers. We’re not really shooting Homeland down here.”
We do not know if Damian formed a band on Billions set, but we know thanks to Maggie Siff sharing in an interview with The Wrap about lighthearted moments during filming that Damian likes to sing show tunes on the set! 🙂 Well, Maggie, you have known Damian for a short while so it is okay you are surprised. Are we surprised at all? Nope.
It turns out that Damian picked up the guitar again during Covid-19 lockdown. In fact, when they launched their brilliant FeedNHS Campaign 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 2020, 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
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 (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 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 (serendipitous!) and that he knew what he wanted to do with Damian: So it is Abbott who introduced Damian to Giacomo Smith and Damian has been noodling around with Giacomo and the band since, having a great time.
Jay Rayner let 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 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 Damian sing “Such A Night” here and line up to take your shot – if you can. He is fabulous 🙂
When I posted about Damian singing ‘Such a Night’ with Kansas Smitty’s in late 2021, I finished my post hoping with all my heart that Damian and the band can find some time to record a few songs and maybe give a concert at some point.
Some dreams come true, don’t they? 🙂
It turns out all these meetings with several musicians inspired Damian to sit down and write songs and lo and behold he found himself in the studio cutting tracks that has become an album coming out in 2023! Steve Abbott, who had Damian meet Giacomo Smith, has tweeted that the new album is a cracker, and the band’s sound is a “roots blues type of thing” for which he gives the great J.J. Cale as an example. And Damian performed J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight” as the encore at his first gig!
I should have known that this would happen 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.”
Given that everything started with Steve Abbott introducing Damian to Giacomo Smith, the leader of the Kansas Smitty’s Jazz Band, during the pandemic, 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. Damian and his band rocked the stage in front of hundreds of people at Omeara London and Wilderness Fest back in August and at The Tabernacle London in November. I am confident that the show at Hoxton Hall will be another fantastic evening.
So… who is going? 🙂
In London Town on March 3rd?? Here’s the next gig. Come on down my little droogs…… pic.twitter.com/4YR1A1yYvE
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) February 2, 2023