It's All Going On With Songwriter Geoff Hatt
Belfast-based performer on his eclectic new album, 70s influences and changing his name for love
There is something heart-warmingly understated and comic about the title of your second album, It's All Going On, which is out now. Why call it that?
It is kind of what I feel when I look at life in general. No matter how much you are or are not achieving, all the time it's 'all going on' and you have to let yourself enjoy that. I think many songwriters were inspired by that philosophy, like John Lennon with 'Watching the Wheels' and Brian Wilson with 'Busy Doin' Nothing'. (You see how I like to shoehorn myself in with good company?) I have a certain perspective on things. It is important to enjoy the ride.
So the title isn't a riff on a Marvin Gaye album, then?
It isn't. Well, not consciously. Who knows what my subconscious is up to.
Belfast pub-goers and live music aficionados will recognize you as MC of Monday Night Open Mic Night at the John Hewitt bar. You also do a bit of acting, as well as writing and recording music. It really is all going on...
It feels that way and though it can sometimes take a bit longer for things to materialize then I'd like, I thank God I am very lucky in having an outlet for many different sides of my creativity. For one thing, running the Monday Open Mic Night at the Hewitt keeps me in touch with the great waves of talent and energy that Belfast plays host to. If I am ever getting a bit jaded or dispirited about the music scene a trip on the good ship Open Mic will bring me back feeling refreshed and full of enthusiasm. (I apologise for my current Long John Silver mood.)
I have several projects which I am very excited about, including a short film based around my song 'Absolute Shocker' inspired by the great comedian/actor Terry-Thomas. I am also excited about a new album of exclusively sillier songs I'm currently working on. Another very personal project will be to make a documentary about my wonderful twin brother Chris who, whilst having his own special magic, is also a huge part of who I am. He died at 22 and now that I'm in my late late 30s, I am getting ready to tell his story.
Your second album is very different to your first, Ten Year Road, which was something of a concept album, featuring songs written over a ten-year period. Thematically, what's changed?
I wanted this album to reflect the next period of my life, which was a new, more settled and happy one, but even being secure and wonderfully in love can take a bit of getting used to. I like that the songs were also written, in some cases, not long before the recording, for example 'Not Hide'. The songs were picked from a pool of songs (a rockpool) of about five years, while some were written while I was recording my first album.
Your name has changed also in the interim. Why replace the G with a H?
I'm glad you asked. To set the record straight on the turntable, my wife and I decided we would like to join are surnames together rather then double barrel them or do the traditional take-the-man's-name thing. My wife's lovely, very classy surname was Hartley, mine was Gatt, a very fine name of Maltese origin.
We decided that an even helping of both would suit us very much with Hatt – Carmel's HA and my TT – and if the Hatt fits... It feels right to change when you get married. You do enter a new phase. People think it's my new stage name, it is not. It is my complete legal name but it does sound quite stagey which I like, like an old music hall man.
It's All Going On is an unashamedly uplifting piece of work. Those types of albums are few and far between these days. Some would say it's not very cool to write about happy things, unless you're Pharrell Williams. Why go against the grain?
I'm really glad you found it uplifting. Maybe that's why I do it, it uplifts me and doubly so when I see other people enjoying it. It may indeed not be very cool to write about happy things – perhaps you're more likely to be accused of being uncool – but it would be a shame not to do it just because of that.
Maybe it is part of life balance. A lot of people go through rough times and need to hear songs which reflect that. I am the type of person who generally wants to cheer people up, like those old 1930s songs which were full of fun even when things were pretty bleak.
I have had some hard times in my life and this is what works for me. I find I can still write about the harder times, which I did more so on Ten Year Road, and some people say they find that album uplifting. There are different strengths of cheer up music, perhaps full strength being The Beach Boys' 'Fun Fun Fun' or Chas and Dave's 'Margate'.
It's All Going On is also an eclectic album, with a focus on composition, instrumentation and lyricism, which brings to mind music from the 1970s and 80s, albums by the likes of Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Harry Nilsson, among others. Would you accept those artists as comparisons?
As any of my friends could tell you, mention me in the same sentence as Harry Nilsson and I will be your friend for life. Yes, Nilsson is one of my very favourite artists he has inspired me to trust my artistic instinct. He went to so many different places artistically and not only that, he seemed to have a great sense of fun with it. He made about 20 albums and I remember thinking as a teenager, 'Wouldn't it be the most amazing thing in the world to have a record contract and to get to explore all you wanted over a load of albums?'
Now, without a contract to my name, I am so lucky to be able to be doing that, as is just about anyone who wants to nowadays, which is great. I have three albums so far (counting a soundtrack to my musical) but I love the idea of it still. And I have a great respect for Paul McCartney. Again somewhat uncool, but so what. He is still making music fantastic. I know less of Billy Joel, though what I have heard I have liked.
Perhaps the tone of the album is similar to those types of artists because a lot of It's All Going On was recorded live in studio – it has that organic, earthy feel. Why not record 52 tracks of atmospheric overdubs like everybody else these days?
With my first album, many different people came in and put down tracks, and it was a multitracked pieced-together thing. My friend and co producer Rory O'Conner did a fantastic job, along with the mastering magic of Jon Moorehead, but it was hard trying to keep the vibe.
When we did a rehearsal for the album launch, suddenly everyone was playing together in one room and not only did it sound amazing but suddenly new ideas were happening because we were interacting. I thought to myself, 'Geoff, that's the way to do it.' So on this album I really wanted it to be about the natural interaction and not have it over-rehearsed either, so stuff could still come out on the recording.
When I looked at many of my favorite artist's work, they may have had mutitracks but they often had all those people together in the room. You can add to it but that is where the magic is. Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson, The Who and look at the magic of old rock n roll, like Gene Vincent for example, it has a room sound.
Some would say you are the antithesis of Pete Townsend, the personification of the macho band leader who enjoys smashing things. Does music always have to be presented with attitude?
I think it has to be what you most love to do, say or present, and even if not everyone finds that edgy enough it will have the edge for you and therefore for someone who is on your wavelength. I love some music which I would have a very hard time trying to justify, but it really is a matter of taste.
I love theatricality in music, or maybe I should say stuff that makes you feel alive. Sometimes I'm in a mad The Who mood, one of the ultimate performer bands (I used to be in a Who tribute act), but then I will love something much mellower to suit my mood. It's an individual palate we all have.
At open mic nights, sometimes someone will just draw everyone in by doing their own thing without even looking up, while other people make a great connection with the audience visually and with their interaction. Either way you could say has attitude.
No parent should ever admit to preferring one child to another, but do you have a particular favourite track on the album?
I do think the track 'I Know' has something special. The sentiment of the song is sort of about believing in your path and somehow, during the recording, there was a magical in the room, it was really there in how we all played and sang together.
Will you be touring the album?
Whilst I am somewhat occupied with my 'Absolute Shocker' film project at present, I look forward with baited beard to more shows soon. I played my first summer festival at Sunflowerfest this year and had an absolute ball. I am excited about touring now I can at last drive. I will be putting any dates I have up on my Facebook site, so keep an eye on that. me harties.
You've been sporting a luxurious beard for many years now. Has anyone ever mistaken you for a hipster?
Someone once said I was trying too hard to be bohemian but I was dressed up to do children's entertainment at the time. I am a little uneasy around hipsters, perhaps because they are a little too much like me with their beards and groovy jackets. In fact – oh my God – am I one of them!
I think to be a true hipster you have to care about it enough to be consistent and I don't think I am, but I am not knocking anyone could be called a hipster. It's all about expression. Some days I wear whatever I can find that is clean and the fashion experiments that happen may or may not be hip.
Thanks you for taking the time to answer our questions. Before we get back to work, is there a line or phrase or verse from the album that will will put a spring in our step?
Lets get undressy!
It's All Going On is available to download now from Bandcamp.