UK country duo Luke and Mel are getting ready to embark on a co-headline UK tour with Gary Quinn.
The British Country Music Award winning group recently released their latest double A-side single “Bad Habit” / “Somethin’ About A Woman.” Luke and Mel have also toured the length and breadth of the UK this year with the likes of Jess and the Bandits and Sara Beth / Glenn Mitchell.
National Country Review recently caught up with Luke Thomas, to discuss their forthcoming headline tour, their close connection with the North East of England and the low down on their writing and recording plans.
NCR: You are about to hit the road across the UK on a co-headline tour with Gary Quinn, which starts on the 5th September in Newcastle. I was just wondering, how have the preparations for the tour been going so far?
Luke: Yeah, ok actually. There’s been a pretty decent response to it, so yeah we are excited. It starts on Monday which is the 5th, so we’ve got less than a week to prepare. Everything’s in place, we are just waiting to get out there really.
NCR: Obviously, you are starting the tour in Newcastle and you seem to have become quite regular visitors to the North East of England. I know that you performed at the Summer Tyne Americana Festival recently and you also performed at the Sage Gateshead earlier this year with Jess and the Bandits. I was just wondering do you enjoy performing in the North East area?
Luke: We love the North East yeah, that’s not even something I have to think about answering. It’s absolutely amazing up in the North East everybody’s really, really into music and especially sort of like Americana, Country sort of Roots music is really big up there, especially with the Summer Tyne stuff.
We are really good friends with Jess and their management and the band and they all say exactly the same, in that the North East is their biggest following in the whole of the UK. It’s sort of the same with us I mean apart from London, you know even our home town we don’t get as big a crowd as we do in Newcastle. People just seem to be really receptive to it and willing to go out and watch our style of music really. We love playing up there, the audiences are great and we can’t wait. We are opening up there on Monday, that’s the first show at The Cluny and we are really excited about that.
NCR: You just mentioned there obviously your close connection with Jess and the Bandits. I saw the Jess and the Bandits show when you opened for them in April and also I caught Jess’s show opening for Imelda May at the Summer Tyne Festival. I noticed you were playing the guitar for Jess that night as well, was that a one-off or are you going to play with Jess again and how do you find playing with those guys?
Luke: My background is in session playing and you know live touring and stuff. Not necessarily as an artist, just as a guitar player you know, a side guy they call them, you know to play with anybody. So when we toured with Jess and the Bandits we sort of got pretty close. After we got talking, they realised what I did for a living and so as soon as Louis their guitar player couldn’t do a couple of shows, they gave me a call and I did a few shows with them over the summer and it was really fun actually.
Summer Tyne was great, because like you said we got to do the Imelda May support which was in the main hall with a couple of thousand people in there, a great audience. Yeah, it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had actually because they are a really good band and I was already a fan of their music and yes I probably will play with them again.
NCR: I noticed you also played a show in Leeds with Sara Beth and I was just wondering how did that go and what was that like?
Luke: Yeah, well we are also good friends with Sara Beth and Glenn Mitchell, every time they come over we try to do a show with them. We couldn’t do the Manchester show, which is where we are based, but we could do the Leeds one, which is less than an hour up the road, so we went and did that.
It was a really cool show, it was at the Brudenell, which we’ve never played at before. It’s an old social club converted into a gig venue, it’s quite studenty, so there were loads of students there and it’s dead cheap on beer and stuff like that. They’ve got loads of selections of beer which is a good thing for me, but yeah it’s a really cool venue actually. I didn’t know what to expect, we will definitely be marking that down on our tour calendar in the future. If anybody gets the chance to see Glenn and Sara Beth you should definitely do it, they are great acts.
NCR: What’s your favourite track to perform live and why?
Luke: I don’t know, that’s a really tough question. For me, it’s anything that has loads of guitar solos probably (laughing). For Mel she would probably say, a lot of our stuff is fairly mellow and very harmony orientated and sort of story telling songs. I think maybe “Bad Habit” our new single, that’s a really fun one to play, it’s up tempo that one, so it breaks the set up a little bit and there’s loads of guitar stuff on there’s some cool harmonies. So probably Bad Habit.
NCR: Like you mentioned there “Bad Habit” was your latest single, it was a double A-side with “Somethin’ About A Woman.”
Luke: So we had this single ready “Bad Habit” and we had already won an award a few months before for the BCMA ‘Song of the Year’ for “Somethin’ About A Woman,” so we thought that we would release that again, like a remixed version of it. It’s not the same as the one we released a couple of years before and we thought we would put it on a double A-side. We just thought it would be a good accompaniment to “Bad Habit,” so that was the reason for it. It did really well, “Bad Habit” got to number four in the iTunes charts and stuff, which is cool. So yeah, it went alright actually.
NCR: Obviously, it’s been a little while since the release of your self-titled debut EP, I think that was about 2014. Have you been working on some new material and do you have any plans to release a full-length album anytime soon?
Luke: Yeah, well what we are gonna do is, I think we are releasing a single in the next couple of weeks, probably just after the tour, which we’ve pretty much got ready to go. We’ve got a couple of songs that are in the pipeline that are nearly finished recording wise.
Then we are going to have a bit of time out over the winter, after the tour, and we are going to sit back and not do any gigs together. I mean I will have to obviously have to earn a living doing other stuff, but we are going to sit back and not do any Luke and Mel for a while and sit and write and come back with a whole load of new material.
We’ve been touring a lot, I mean the UK is not very big and we tour a lot, we play all year around. Everybody sees us ten times a year at least so we are gonna sit back, starve everyone a little bit and then come back with a load of new stuff and then hopefully it will create a bit more of a buzz. It’s about time I think (laughing).
NCR: Where do you find the inspiration for your songwriting?
Luke: That’s a tough question. Well mostly with stuff that’s happened in the past in either of our lives. I think particularly Mel has a book, it’s a bit like a songwriting diary basically, she doesn’t write in it every day, but if something happens in her life that she thinks would make a good song, she just writes about it. She doesn’t write the song, she just writes about that subject and puts ideas down and stuff. She’s very into her songwriting theory, with different techniques of songwriting and stuff and writing ideas down.
So when we go into a songwriting session, say most of the time we write with other people, a lot of the time we will go into Mel’s book and find something that we haven’t written about yet and everybody sort of agrees on. Then I will look on my phone, on my voice memos for some cool licks that I’ve …I do the same sort of thing as Mel, but I sit down and if I’m playing my guitar and I think of something new I will record it. Then I will forget about it and then when we get into a writing session I will bring it out and if anything fits, we sort of go from there.
The answer to your question is probably true life events really, that’s probably the biggest inspiration for what we write about. We rarely write about made up stories.
NCR: Obviously, there seems to be a real groundswell in country music in the UK. There are so many bands doing well both here and out in the U.S. with the likes of The Shires, Ward Thomas, yourselves and Jess and the Bandits. I was just wondering can you remember how you discovered country music yourself and when you decided you wanted to play this style of music?
Luke: Yeah, my parents are both musicians and big into country. They have a theatre show called Country Legends which was really big for about the last fifteen years. Up until about two years ago, they were touring about a hundred gigs a year around the UK. That did really well for a few years and I was sort of in my impressionable years in them days when they were doing well, you know sort of in my early teens.
As soon as I left school, I had never been interested in being a musician because my parents had always been musicians, none of my brothers are, but I just sort of slightly learnt how to play the guitar with my dad every now and then because he’s a guitar player. Then when I got to about fourteen something clicked and my dad always used to play Brad Paisley and people like that, something clicked and I thought I really want to be able to play like him, like Brad and Vince Gill.
So then when I left school, I just went straight into my mum and dad’s show, just playing rhythm guitar, singing, backing vocals and stuff and it went from there really. The guitar player who was the lead guitar player at the time, John Pettifer he’s called, he sort of taught me everything he knew while I was in the band and it went from there. Then Mel joined that show actually about four or five years ago, I was still the lead guitar player and then that’s how we met.
NCR: I know that you guys have played at C2C the last three years. I was just wondering what was that experience like playing at The O2 to all those people?
Luke: It’s great. It’s very daunting at first, obviously, we’ve played there three years in a row now. Obviously, we gain fans every year, so we get to know more people every time we play there.
The great thing about C2C is that it brings people out of the woodwork who don’t usually go to UK country gigs for the rest of the year and that’s pretty much the main reason we all love playing at C2C because there is potential to reach so much more people. There are 20,000 people there over the weekend if not more.
Yeah, so it’s a great buzz and all of your friends are there, everybody is in the same building all weekend, it’s brilliant. Yeah, we hope to be back there again next year and the year after and the one after that (laughing).
NCR: With regards to your own personal influences, what’s the one album in your record collection that you couldn’t live without?
Luke: It changes over the years. It has been probably every Brad Paisley album over the years. At the moment and it’s not a new album, it’s probably about three years old, but I really love Charlie Worsham. He’s a young lad, well I say he’s a young lad, he’s young for a country musician, I suppose he’s probably in his late twenties, and he keeps it real. He’s a great guitar player, his songs are great, but it’s real enough.
I don’t like a lot of really up to date pop sort of country, I think it will die out eventually that. You know with people like Chris Stapleton and Maren Moris and there are a couple of others coming through that are quite old school now, but they are going down really well, especially Chris Stapleton.
But yeah, that Charlie Worsham album, it’s called “Rubberband” and literally, every song on that album is a hit, and I love it to bits, check it out.
NCR: What else do you have in store for the rest of this year?
Luke: Like I said earlier, after this tour that we are doing this week, which ends next Thursday in London, we are gonna sit back and write and we are not going to do anything really. There are a couple of shows that might happen that are still in the pipeline especially like in London, but we don’t know yet, but the main focus for us is going to be to sit and write some new stuff.
NCR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, we really appreciate it and hopefully we will get to see you again very soon.
Luke: Absolutely, no problem, thank you.
Luke and Mel
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