Taking breakfast with Razorlight's Andy Burrows
“So, Phil Collins has just retired. What are you up to, Andy?”
The drummer smiles. Takes a fork loaded with egg and bacon to his mouth. Swallows and smiles again, chuckling a little to himself.
“No, sorry. Ask me a question.”
I’m at The Wolseley, on Piccadilly in central London, for a breakfast appointment with Andy Burrows, one-fourth of chart-conquering and world-touring rock act* Razorlight* and writer of the band's huge hit 'America'. But even though the band is busy at work writing and recording their third studio LP, I’m not here to discuss matters directly involving his bandmates Johnny Borrell, Carl Dalemo and Bjorn Agren. I’m here because Burrows has recorded an understated solo record, The Colour Of My Dreams – hardly an album 'proper' at just 13 minutes in length, but running to 11 tracks – and is donating the proceeds from its release to a charity both he and I are familiar with: Naomi House’s Jacksplace appeal.
Naomi House is a hospice near Winchester caring for life-limited and terminally ill children; it’s based in Winchester, where both Burrows and I were born, at the city’s hospital, not a year apart. It is raising funds to construct a new building, Jacksplace, aimed at providing the teenagers it offers a home to a level of privacy, independence and dignity that its present facilities can not deliver. A very worthy cause, then, and one of many that popular musicians have gotten behind in recent years. This is something that will set alarm bells ringing in the minds of some readers, knowledgeable that a number of charity releases have served as springboards for a certain artist’s career, the original causes for said song/s sometimes clouded out by growing egos and blossoming profiles.
“At the end of the day, what does it matter who these people have done this work for, so long as they’ve done it?” questions Burrows between mouthfuls. “It’s important that they have done the charity work. There are so many charities out there, all of which involve people working really hard for something they’re passionate about, and they put their heart and soul into it. Compared to going around the world playing drums, with people telling you that you’re great, it’s _that which I think is really incredible."_
Video: Andy explains a little about the record and Naomi's House...
So why Naomi House?
“_Well, I visited Naomi House a few years ago, I think actually before Razorlight. I don’t remember why I visited it, but I did, and I remember thinking what an incredible place it was. It was so full-on, and I had this fantasy that I could help them in some way, but as this drunk in Winchester at the time, that was a little out of the question.
“So I’d been thinking about that for a while, and then they asked us, the band, about being patrons. They got in touch with someone at our management, I think – I’d talked about them somewhere. I went down there again, and we spent a day playing the drums with the children. It was really humbling – I drove away feeling quite odd. They’ve this room there, The Butterfly Room. It’s where they lay the children when they die. That was pretty heavy man; I was like, 'Bloody hell'. The people that work there, they are incredible, so I had to think of some way of doing something. But I didn’t think of anything, that’s how brilliant I am.”
Eventually the solution presented itself: after completing their touring for 2006’s self-titled second album, Razorlight’s members took some time out from each other, and it was during this period that the seeds for The Colour Of My Dreams were sewn.
“I was just milling about my flat after we’d got back, not knowing what to do. Me and Johnny had been writing a few pieces, but he’d gone away, and I wanted to continue writing. I thought, I’m not really much of a wordsmith but I’m writing songs all the time, and I don’t want to bother Johnny at the moment because we’re taking time off. So I got one of Peter Dixon’s books. He’s an incredible man, a really really_ amazing man. He’s my little brother’s godfather, and he’s been in my life for, well, all my life as he’s a lot older than I am. He’s a published poet, like a much-less-famous Roger McGough, and he’s got this artist, David Thomas, who’s sort of like Quentin Blake – they’ve that kind of vibe going. He, David, actually set up my first-ever drum kit, and we all lived on the same road when I was really little, me and my brother and sister careering up and down the street on bikes while those two were arty figures. It was nice, y’know.
“So I thought: How can I write songs without having to work very hard on any lyrics? And I love Peter’s poems; they’ve a real child’s-eye-view type vibe, but touch on subjects that everyone can relate to. So I thought they’d be good to put to songs, and I started learning how to use my computer, albeit in a very primitive fashion – I’m still absolutely useless, but I worked out how to use start and stop, and left and right pan and stuff. After five of these little songs I thought I’d keep it going – it was a nice way to write songs without bugging the rest of the band while we were on holiday.”_
Using Dixon’s poems as lyrical inspiration, literally quoting them word for word, Burrows set about writing acoustic guitar arrangements to complement the imagery conjured by his lifelong family friend. The result is The Colour Of My Dreams, and its artwork features the drawings of David Thomas. While Burrows was wary of writing his own lyrics, the record showcases quite wonderfully his natural singing voice, already compared to Elliott Smith by one leading music magazine – such a comparison is, in Burrow’s words, “absolutely incredible”. But how did his solo endeavour get from GarageBand, upon which the whole thing is recorded, to a major label and, subsequently, your local music store?
“I gave some songs to someone at our label, hand on heart, just to show him what I’d been up to. He said, really to my surprise because it seemed like such a short and incomplete project, that it was really good, and that it’d be nice to get it out there. It was then that I had to work out how to justify putting out this little record that’s only a few minutes long, but that I’m really proud of. A record that sounds like it was done in a traffic jam, down a phone, while it’s recorded through a television, or something. Maybe because it is that little bit different, and wasn’t done at a proper studio, I thought it might be something to tie in with this charity I’d been wanting to support for ages. I’d been racking my brain how to help them, and this seemed to suit.
“I am proud of the record – I don’t see any reason why people shouldn’t listen to it as a ‘real’ record, apart from the fact that it’s very short. I like listening to it, y’know; it’s quite chilled out and very different to what I’m used to hearing, just drums.”
Chilled out it certainly is, so spectral of sound it’ll pass you completely by, given its brief running time, unless you focus upon its slight frame. An opportunity – the only opportunity at present – to get a visual aid to appreciate the record arrives on May 28, when Burrows performs – again for Naomi House; every part of this project is arranged with the Winchester hospice’s interests in mind – at London’s Union Chapel, in Highbury. It could prove rather shambolic, he admits, but he’s not especially worried about rendering each song perfectly so long as the messages are heard.
“The gig next week will feel weird, as I’m not really used to that. I did one gig at The Railway Inn, in Winchester, on my own in 2002, and I’ve done a few sets with Johnny where we’ve both played guitar, but I don’t think I’ve played on my own, really. No, I can’t think of a time. It’ll be weird to be so far forward on the stage, but again, without wanting to sound to righteous, I hope a certain vibe will be there on the night, whatever happens. It could be a total shambles – I’ve asked so many people to be involved and I keep forgetting who I’ve asked! People will call me and I’m like, Shit, I’ve asked you too!”
Video: Razorlight, 'America'
So who else is involved, other than Johnny, who was confirmed a while back?
“Tom [Smith] from Editors came over to rehearse this song he said he’d do with me, and I’m very flattered he is. So he came to my flat and then we went to the pub and… Seriously, where I live is like _Stella Street, as Dom [Howard] from Muse lives on the other side of the road, so I invited him to the pub. I said to him that Tom and I had been practising this song, and he said: ‘Oh, I’ve been at home working out every single drum part to these songs, and I’ve sent you an e-mail.’ Shit. I’d abandoned the idea of having drums, but now we have to work that back in – I had to tell people, ‘Shit, put Dom on the flyer!’ It might be total chaos, a relay in band form.
“But this gig will be great, so different to the shows we’ve done as Razorlight. I hope if it’s a shambles it’ll be a lovely shambles, y’know what I mean – I don’t mind it being a shambles if it raises some cash for Naomi House. It’s all for charity – that’s the reason for doing this. I didn’t want to put the record out, at this stage, on my own, without a reason like this for doing so. I think that might happen at some stage, but we’re right in the thick of things in Razorlight at the moment, and everyone’s loving it. I mean, it’s funny how this has happened – I meant for it to happen in our time off, but things have been pushed back and Razorlight got brought forward, but it’s okay – it keeps you on your toes, keeps you busy.”_
You say it’s something you might do again in the future, record more solo material?
“I would like, one day, to follow it up, maybe in five years’ time if the band takes a year off or something. I tell you one thing I do like the idea of doing on my own: those festivals that are set in forests, y’know, really low-key events, that vibe. I couldn’t do the whole ‘rock band’ thing, though, and that’s why I hold Johnny so highly: to be able to get up there, with your top off and go mental. I’m happy back there, behind all that metalwork. I could never do what he does. But this is the exact vibe I’d aim for; I feel comfortable like this. I don’t feel comfortable singing out really loudly, and being all… y’know… I’m a showman in my own local pub. I like talking a lot – I can tire people out just talking, and then apologising. As soon as I’m on a big stage… well, at this gig I’ll just be talking, and everyone will be like, ‘Play a song’ or something!
“I want this gig to have a school fete vibe, so I’ve got Jamie Oliver to come and run a barbecue, all in the name of charity. The hot dogs will be a couple of quid and all the money will go to Naomi House, so everyone who comes should not eat beforehand – don’t fill up on kebabs on the way to the gig because Jamie’s going to be there! And having watched his programmes and read his books, I think these hot dogs are going to be quite nice. The other thing I need to mention is my drum kit – it’s on eBay now, and all the money from that will go to Naomi House. It’s my favourite drum kit, too, and part of me doesn’t know why I’m auctioning it. I’m quit lucky to have one in reserve, but this is my favourite one, so I’m desperate for it to get a bit of cash._
“I’m not pretending I’ve worked down there, at Naomi House, but I know a bit about it, and when I went there it really made me think about things. I’ve been so lucky with this band, so lucky. Literally… well, I’ve just been really lucky, and I just want to do something that’s a bit useful. I really enjoyed doing it, and I’m really proud of it. It’d be nice to think that people like this, but at the end of the day it’s a little for me and a lot for charity, and I won’t start crying about it if people don’t like it… Actually I probably will start crying if people are nasty about it!”
Fortunately for Burrows it seems few people are likely to not take to The Colour Of My Dreams; a nice album in the most sincere way, sweet without being overly cloying, its marriage of poetic lyrics and subtle instrumentation is a surprising success, and an encouraging sign that this drummer by day could, if the mood was to ever take him, down sticks for a quite remarkable reinvention.
The Colour Of My Dreams is released via Vertigo on May 26, and Andy Burrows plays The Union Chapel on May 28 (tickets) alongside a supporting cast including Tom Smith, Dom Howard, Johnny Borrell and Fyfe Dangerfield. For more information on the record, and to hear clips and win tickets to the gig, click to MySpace here.
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