RISING STAR: Best Boy Grip

Derry~Londonderry's emerging tunesmith on risqué lyrics, playing piano and being compared to the Beatles

What inspired you to start performing under the stage name Best Boy Grip?

About six months ago I decided that it was time for the world to hear what I’ve been working towards for many years. My first EP, Barbara, is the culmination of a decade’s worth of songwriting. The name Best Boy Grip always stood out to me when I watched the end credits in movies. I’m not a film buff as such, I was just looking for a catchy name. And there’s a lot of similarly named artists around these days, like Badly Drawn Boy and Rainy Boy Sleep. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

What are you working on at the minute?

I’m continuously writing new material, looking to improve all the time. Every song that I’m choosing to release over the next couple of years is on the go. Some songs are still being written, and some songs are already completed. I always try to keep up with the times, writing almost every day and going back over material that I’ve already written but not yet released.

You've been making waves since the release of the EP? Were you prepared?

Getting involved with the production of the EP and the songwriting simultaneously has been very difficult – being signed up to a record company would help things move at a much faster pace. On the plus side, I’ve experienced reviews of my work for the first time, and they’ve all been glowing! I really was over the moon at such a response, since I hadn’t released any kind of single in ten years.

The airplay that I’ve got through Stephen McCauley, Across The Line and BBC Introducing has been brilliant. With radio and social networking, especially Facebook, YouTube and BandCamp, you can really get your music into people’s ears – and that’s exactly what’s happened for me.

Critics have likened you to both Neil Hannon and The Beatles. No pressure there then...

Sometimes people will hear piano playing on a song and automatically associate that artist with another musician who regularly plays piano, like The Beatles, Ben Folds or Neil Hannon. I’ve even seen Our Krypton Son being compared to Ben Folds, when, in my opinion, there’s no comparison! But people just happened to hear the piano in one of his songs. It doesn't happen to guitarists as much, probably because there are so many more guitar bands out there.

Is piano the be all and end all for you?

In recent years I decided to become a piano songwriter, but I also play both clarinet and guitar. I haven’t used the clarinet in any of my recordings so far, but I’ve written many songs for guitar. So there’s a good chance the instrument will feature more heavily in the future.

Both you and your wife are members of the internationally renowned Codetta Choir. Has your experience performing in a collective helped you as a solo performer?

The songs I’ve sung have rubbed off on me, definitely. If I hear an unbelievably complex harmony in a piece we perform, I now have the confidence to create something like that myself, whereas n the past I might have been afraid to complicate things too much. Intricate harmonies are acceptable in the classical world, but I’m hoping I can help more people to embrace similar chord progressions and chord changes in the popular music scene.

Is writing something that comes easy?

I’ve never had any problems with music, but I really used to struggle when writing the first line of a song. In the last three to four years though, I’ve made great strides in the lyrical sense. I’ve found that it’s a good idea to write songs with darker lyrics than something like 'walking through the park, holding hands and looking at the stars'.

Like 'Barbara', for example. The titular woman is clearly very promiscuous. What we have on our hands is not really a love song at all, more of a 'hate' song – one that allows people to have a sense of compassion for Barbara even though I’m clearly exposing her for what she is.

I always try to write lyrics that make people think. Straightforward and wishy washy lyrics often don’t actually have any reflection on anyone’s being. Say something interesting, dangerous or risqué on the other hand, and it can make the hairs on the back of people’s necks stand up. I’ve dealt with themes like that in songs like 'The Bridge' and 'Monster In Me'.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

I’ve had a lot of support slots so far, for the likes of Pete Doherty, Bronagh Gallagher and Paul Casey. Now I’m looking forward to playing for my own audiences. I’ve got a great line up of gigs coming soon, particularly in Belfast, and I’m currently looking at releasing another EP in February 2012.

The last three or four years has seen a massive influx of talent in Derry-Londonderry. Our artists are producing some great material and there are acts from here that are as good as anything out there. I hope that, as the City Of Culture year draws closer and Derry-Londonderry gets higher profile mentions in newspapers, new buildings and projects will open up for every artist within the area.

Best Boy Grip will be performing at the Out To Lunch Festival on Sunday January 22 with Rainy Boy Sleep and Morgan McIntyre. For more information, check out the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival website.