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“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.”
‘Ohio’ Neil Young
Thus go the lyrics of a song released by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in June 1970. A song which pays reference to the Kent State University shootings on 4th May 1970 in which the Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine others during a students protest against Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. Some major Radio Stations in the US banned the song upon it’s release, since the song attacked Nixon’s Presidency, and perhaps was the first record to
publicly slate a US president.
Despite the ban, the song did manage to raise the nations’ conscience. In fact Ohio was still played on Underground and College Radios at the time. Neil Young manage to take a social situation and turned it into a song via his trusted acoustic guitar; that is the power of music. A similar trait can be seen in the works of Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan and many more who have penned songs which are timeless, poetic, romantic, well crafted, haunting, ethereal and melodic. There is a magical feel about acoustic based music, as it draws the listener into a journey-you then feel the empathy of the artist who paints a picture with their music.
Perhaps it would be fair to stay the golden age of the acoustic guitar, be it folk or protest songs was the late sixties and the early seventies, where music was young and revolutionary. Yet it is a genre that has never really gone away, as music lovers love to be entertained by one performer and his guitar, singing and playing from the heart-besides it’s only the mainstream media what tell us what we should be listening to… citizens. Now couple this with the rise of modern technology-YouTube , social network sites and small venues flying the flag for live music- there are plenty of good bands , not necessary acoustic, out there for you to discover. That is, if you can be bothered to turn off your TV and going searching for musical treasures.
Moreover one little gem that Alan McGee gave to ZANI was the acoustic based band from Liverpool, The Grants. Formed in 2006 consisting of Chris Grant (lead vocals and guitar) Anthony Grant (lead guitar) Sean McCormick (bass and occasional Rhythm Guitar) and Colin J White (Percussion Drums and Backing Vocals)
The Grants opened up ZANI’s Live Music Night ‘Waterloo Upset’. For sure, we had heard of them, and noticed that McGee had been championing the band over two years. However from the strum of their opening chord, ZANI warmed to them.
Like the forefathers of acoustic music, The Grant’s music is mesmerising, poignant expressive, harmonious and with a hint of rebellion. In addition, they look cool, a sort of sixties beatnik with the terrace fashion of the late 70’s and early 80’s, and with the camaraderie of any good band to match.
There was no time to interview The Grants at Waterloo Upset, So just before Christmas ZANI decided to catch a train to Liverpool and meet Chris Grant in the foyer of The Britannia Adelphi Hotel, where we chatted about music, Liverpool, The Beatles, The Music Industry and much more over coffee and Panettone.
ZANI – 2011 seems an exciting year for you, as you spent the last part of 2010 recording.
Chris Grant - We have been in Park Street studios in Liverpool, and recorded three songs. I am not saying what songs we have recorded as we are more of a live band and we are trying to capture our live sound. One of the engineers at the studio played keyboards on some of the tracks.
ZANI – But you have used keyboard before in some of your recordings?
Chris Grant - Yeah I can play the piano, but we have never used the piano live before, for the simply reason, we haven’t got one. But if we turn up at a venue, and they have got a piano we will used it, but until further notice, The Grants don’t have an official piano player.
ZANI – I understand that you and your brother Anthony are multi instrumentalists. So do you and he get spontaneous if you see an instrument lying about and put it on the track?
Chris Grant - Yeah we do in our secret studio in Liverpool. There we have got everything we need at hand, guitars, basses, drums and Pro tools, so we can have any sound we want on the keyboard. But we like to keep our sound real and natural. Every one in the band are multi instrumentalists and we can all play each other’s instrument.
ZANI – From listening to your music and seeing you play live, would you say it Bob Dylan and Neil Young that got you into music, when you were younger and helped to develop the sound you have got now?
Chris Grant - Without realising it, we were bought up on a healthy influence of music of American music, like Neil Young and Bob Dylan, because my dad was a big fan. My dad had a big stereo in the corner of the living room, and he would play all their LP’s. I learned to play the guitar at a young age, and by the time I was 12, I could jam along to all Dylan and Neil Young’s songs.
Anthony and I would sneak into pubs, and the punters would see these two little kids knocking out stuff from Bob Dylan’s Desire. That’s how we got the buzz for playing live, and from that we realised we had a good knowledge of what was good and what was bad, then Oasis came along and we got into them.
Oasis made playing the guitar cool again. Every one knows that Oasis were a good band, but no one talks about how they made it cool to play the guitar again.
ZANI – True, and it was refreshing to see.
Chris Grant - The great thing Oasis done, was not to make music, but to influence a generation of kids to be creative.
ZANI – I agree, but you were being creative anyway, Oasis just helped to break the barrier down and bring it to the forefront.
Chris Grant - It’s an old cliché story I know, but they made you think that if you were from a council estate (which we were) you could make something of yourself. There are other things to do other than to jump in the grime, and go to the building site. There was a chance, that someone normal who spoke like we spoke, could take it that far.
ZANI – So you are a working class boy who has been influenced by music, like Dylan, Young and Oasis but I can imagine literature has played a big part in your song writing?
Chris Grant - Yes we are well read in the house, Anthony went to University, I didn’t, I went down the proper rock and roll path. I walked out of the school gates when I was 15, and I have done nothing else but play the guitar. At one point I was travelling up and down the country playing anywhere, mainly doing solo spots. Then Anthony finished his English Literature degree and joined me. Anthony can quote all the great writers, the world has ever seen, and with Colin our drummer, they have an amazing knowledge between them. They could go on Mastermind, I am telling you.
ZANI – As The Grants are from Liverpool, and you are four working class lads, I presume, (and I am doing it myself) that you are compared to The Beatles, are they a huge influence as well?
Chris Grant - If you are in a guitar band, you are going to come across The Beatles at some point, because they made pop music what it is today. I used to hate it as a kid coming from Liverpool and being in a band, because you couldn’t go anywhere, without someone mentioning The Beatles, but now I feel quite lucky. I have been in Beatles tribute bands, I was George Harrison.
As I am from Liverpool, I have actually played some of the places that The Beatles played, and met people who The Beatles played for. And I have met fellows over the years, who knew John Lennon and Paul McCartney well, like Pete Best.
You see their fans from the US, reading all these books on The Beatles and Liverpool. The Grants live where they had lived, so I feel I understand The Beatles a lot more then someone who is not from Liverpool, but I admit that in a biased way.
ZANI – I can go with that and I understand that. Alan McGee has been pushing The Grants for a few years now, and he gave you your first break in London, is that right?
Chris Grant - We sent Alan McGee, a cheeky message on MySpace, saying sign us now, whilst you have got the chance. Thinking if he is so fucking cool, then we will just get it, and he did. He just got back to me, and said the tunes are fucking great, do you want a gig in London?
We pretty much played in London for three years, just smashing it up on the nights, we were young and wild, we rocked it out. Some gigs we sat down, some gigs we danced on the podiums and some gigs we just walked around.
But I used those gigs as more of a focus group, I was seeing what was working and what wasn’t, and finding an audience. I learnt a lot from those nights, in terms of song writing that is. Basically one of the rules, we had was, if we smashed it and everyone is dancing, then I would go home with a strop because I liked the nights, we just studied every one, and every one stood still.
I think Alan noticed that about me, I think he realised that I preferred a gig to go tits up, then go smoothly. If it goes smoothly, that means you are Kasabian, because everybody is just jumping up and down to any tune that comes on. I rather people went home, and say “there is something different about that band”
I think we are trying to show the world that we have got that little bit more then anybody else. But everyone should think that if they are in a band, and if they don’t they might as well give up.
ZANI – Originality does seem to be missing in a lot of today’s band
Chris Grant - That’s why we haven’t rushed into any deals, it just felt like the people wanted to dive onto us to make some money quick.
ZANI – I can imagine that a few record companies have approached you over the years.
Chris Grant - They have, we have a Manager now based in New York, called Jim Grant, and I can tell you, he is no relation. He’s been looking after us for about two years. I used to speak to all the record companies, but Jim does that now.
I have been taken out for dinner by the Record Companies but I was aware that it was bullshit. But I was a lot younger and a bit naïve back then. But I have got Alan behind me and I can phone him anytime, ask if this fella is any good and he will say ‘he’s a cunt’ or “he’s sound”
There’s a bit of an age difference between Alan and I, but we think alike. We don’t like bullshit, we just like straight answers, and Jim is a good manager for advice.
ZANI – How did Jim Grant get into the equation?
Chris Grant - He was Manager for the Teenage Fanclub in the US, and he broke The Hives in the US, so he has known Alan for a few years. He used to manage Living Color
ZANI – I remember Living Color, they were a great rock band.
Chris Grant - They were, Jim Grant is a platinum selling Manager, he’s won a Grammy a few years back for The Dixie Chicks and he still manages Brian Wilson, as in Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys.
ZANI – He has a great background, and sounds perfect for The Grants
Chris Grant - He knows his shit, he has given us sound advice. We are talking about going to the US and recording some songs with some people out there, including Brian Wilson.
We have got an agent in the US, but we haven’t found the time yet to get over there, it just seems that the recording comes first, and for now that is the stage we are at, focusing on getting some quality sessions done, and seeing where they take us.
The best thing about The Grant’s whole situation is, is that we do what we want to do and we make the music we want to make. We haven’t made that leap into a musical mortgage as I call it. We haven’t taken a big deal, and no one can tell me what to do, where to go. Now I am enjoying it, but I know it is not going to be like that forever.
To get somewhere in this game, at the end of the day you have got to get on the whales’ back. I am just trying to make double sure that we don’t let our fans down by realising some cheesy songs, and getting dressed up for pop videos, and all that bullshit. I am not into the whole fame thing in the slightest.
ZANI – That is refreshing to hear.
Chris Grant - But in the media they still want that rock and roll story, and I have no problem about naming names, and I will probably get sued. But Seymour Stein who signed Madonna, phoned me once, even though Alan said he was pretty cool, and I said I don’t give a fuck. “Hey Chris, we need a story” he said in a mad American accent, and I replied what kind of story? He wanted something that I was alcoholic and I was writing songs, or I was in the hostel and I was writing songs, or I had been in the army and I was writing songs. But you couldn’t be a sharp lad who wrote songs, and that’s what’s the media is all about, bullshit.
But there are sites like ZANI that are starting to changes things, you might not see it, but you are.
ZANI – We write with passion, and we don’t give a fuck about what’s in or out.
Chris Grant - It’s back to the freedom of speech, the NME means shit and I have never bought the NME in my life, and I have been in a band all my life. I don’t know anybody who has.
ZANI – It’s a comic
Chris Grant - We call it the Beano for music, it’s typical bullshit, they have got all their skinny jeans on, and all that.
ZANI – It’s corporate fashion, dress the same, think the same, it’s like Seymour Stein asking you for a story, they think that rock and roll is about sleaze. People have forgotten what Rock n Roll is all about; its about making music and being dedicated to your Art.
Chris Grant - The Grants are saying you can make our own world, express your own opinions, and don’t be scared. People aren’t listening to one type of music anymore, on the internet, you can choose where you want to go, its starting to become a fairer place, but I think in five to ten years time, it will be a lot fairer. It’s not going to be one voice, one magazine telling you where to go or what to listen to.
I thought Top Of The Pops was shit from day one, all the great bands that were out, signed or unsigned never got to play Top of The Pops. And you were made to believe it was only Rod Stewart in the 70’s, The Smiths in the 80’s, Oasis in the 90’s. There have always been millions of bands out there, who never made to that point, but they made great music nevertheless, on the internet, you can find these bands.
ZANI – I agree, music is clearly important to you because in 2007, Rhys Jones aged 11 was shot in Liverpool, which led to The Grants and our slogan, Guitars Not Guns.
Chris Grant - There was a lot going on with guns in Liverpool before Rhys Jones.
ZANI – But that was just the pinnacle, that made national news.
Chris Grant - What people didn’t pick up on, was that kid who shot Rhys Jones had been arrested by the police eighty-seven times. You only have to look at those stats alone, to realise that something is fucking wrong. We can’t get involved in politics, people can march against a war, but the war will still happen. So if a band from Liverpool starts telling people to throw their guns away, it ain’t going to happen. But what we are trying to do, for the next generation of kids that come through, is to have the message it doesn’t have to be guitars, it can be anything, oranges not guns, trainers not guns, there are choices to be made. Sadly there is a lot of kids who think there is no choice and down the wrong route, and that’s down to laziness, disbelief and the local newspaper.
ZANI – The local newspaper?
Chris Grant - The main newspaper in Liverpool, is called the Liverpool Echo and that’s like The Beano for gangsters. Most of the paper is taken up by gangsters, who was after who, when they were in court and all that shit. They glorify it. It’s like The Simpsons, and people are putting up with it, and it’s like come on, there is a lot of good going on in the city of Liverpool, as there is a lot of other cities in England. But the media need to be positive. If you want to know who is in court that week, go to page 19 not the front page.
ZANI – Sensationalism at its worst. What would say has been your happiness moment in song writing? Where you sat back and said ‘that is one of the best songs I have ever written’
Chris Grant - I tend to do that a lot, and then it turns out not to be. That’s the way it is, and that it why song writing is so addictive. A song can to come to you, unexpectedly. I will have a twinkle on the piano, a strum on the guitar or I will just jot the idea down, it’s a special thing to have and it don’t happen to a lot of people.
I could be watching TV, and a song must just come in my head. Your brain works in different ways, I could be talking to somebody, and a song will spring into the in the back of my head, and then I can’t wait to get home to write it. Then when I get home write it and it all comes out, because the song might have been with me for ten years, waiting to come out.
It happens all the time, in fact every week, and that’s the only answer I can give you, because I always feel satisfied that I have done something new that no one else has created, good karma
ZANI – When you aren’t song writing, what are your other interests?
Chris Grant - Nothing really, I am not a drinker anymore, done enough drinking to last me a life time. Don’t go out socialising, as I spend enough time in clubs and pubs when I working with the band. Tend to stay in with my girl, relax and go for walks, chill out and talk about life.
We are very big on conversation in our band, we don’t sit around watching DVD’s and all that bullshit. We talk about records, mainly vinyl as we have still our old record players, so we go to charity shops and buy records.
ZANI – I wish I had kept my record player.
Chris Grant - That is what is big with The Grants, not very rock and roll I know, but I couldn’t give a fuck. We go round the charity shops round Liverpool, like in Penny Lane, please no Beatles reference. Anyway we might buy some an old Motown 45, go home, play it, and that is a great feeling.
ZANI – Oh I love that feeling of discovering new music from the past. What gems apart from Motown have you picked up from Charity shops?
Chris Grant - Carole King , Burt Bacharach, a lot of big band stuff with Quincy Jones, which I haven’t heard yet, so I am looking forward to hearing that.
ZANI – Sounds good. Is there any brand of guitar you favour?
Chris Grant - I use Gretsch Guitars, which I have done since I was 15, and I haven’t used anything else since. I don’t think there is better make of guitar, well apart from Rickenbacker that is, which our Anthony uses.
ZANI – Why the Gretsch?
Chris Grant - Basically I was a big George Harrison fan when I was a kid, and that was the guitar he used. It’s a classic guitar. It’s one of those guitars that has been handed from generation to generation, which is the same with Rickenbacker, Anthony and me don’t tend to switch guitars about. We might do when we start recording the second album.
ZANI – Final question, what you say is The Grants’ manifesto?
Chris Grant – “To Create and Keep Hope Alive” There are a lot of kids out there on Xboxes, and there doesn’t seem to be anybody telling them that is not the only way to live, but basically you can create and do something good. You don’t have to take the wrong path in life, the older I get I see more reason to do something good. Not to be a preacher, but I feel I want to do something with my life, for the rest of my life. Something that will encourage kids to do something good and I think I can do that through the music.
Chris Grant is certainly passionate about his craft, and prepared to stick by his guns for the right deal for The Grants, that is highly commendable and a brave choice firmly believing that their music should come first; not the marketing. Moreover, there is no need for the PR machine as they are from a tough part of Liverpool, witnessed violence at street level and learnt how to channel their anger and frustration into their music. Isn’t that inspiring and uplifting enough?
Chris Grant is the ideal front man. Young, intelligent, worldly, good looking , talented, outspoken and ready to make his mark in music. Even though The Grants have been on the fringe for over two years, it is only a question of time before they make it big. In thirty years time, people may well be citing their songs to remember a piece of their History, just like the Neil Young of yesterday.
© Words Matteo Sedazzari / ZANI Media
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