“I didn’t even know this could be done. This is great!” exclaims Aidan Smith. As his face appears on screen, he is clearly chuffed at the arrival of Skype video calls into his world, and rotates his laptop giving a blurred tour of his Manchester flat.
The 34-year-old singer-songwriter’s first solo album since 2008, ‘Phone Me If You’re Bored’, was recorded in his mum and dad’s bedroom, and he lists country and western and ‘50s rock and roll among the influences coming through on the set.
When he’s not writing songs or playing in one of his numerous bands, Smith works part-time at a local library. “I can do my own thing there,” he says. “I’m thinking about starting kung fu. I’ve been reading about it today. That’s my next project.”
A kung fu librarian is just the sort of character who might appear in one of Smith’s songs. On ‘Phone Me If You’re Bored’, he sings the stories of a diverse cast of characters. Opener ‘In The Articles’ is about a princess eloping with a songwriter and being pursued by the tabloid press was written at the time of the last royal wedding.
“There’s lots of fact and fiction in all songs,” he says. His favourite song, ‘Asleep On The Roof’, is set in the aftermath of a major disaster. The narrator has fled to the rooftops, and is fondly remembering the days of computer games, marijuana and sangria before the disaster.
“I got into writing characters because I was interested in musicals.” Smith names West Side Story among his favourites, but has little in common with Andrew Lloyd Webber apart from supporting the same football team, Leyton Orient.
Another song, ‘The Gambler’, is a life story told in under two-and-a-half minutes: “Do you know what it’s like to belong to / No one but the dealer and the booze?” He was influenced by the “miniature grand symphonies” of ‘50s rock and roll songs. “The two-and-a-half-minute confines of radio play led to some really amazing pieces of work,” he says.
The album was recorded with the help of a loose band of Manchester musicians – his Indulgent Friends – and produced by his bandmate and brother, Louis Smith. It is a sharp recording with complex instrumentation. The most ambitious track, ‘1954 – Lullaby’, is a mini-musical in which a ghost addresses the love of his former life. The song is disrupted by radio static and the dial moves through rock and roll, heavy metal, a pretentious interview and lullaby, all recorded by the band. “Louis’s inventive guitar sounds are outstanding,” Smith says with brotherly pride.
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Aidan Smith, ‘Be The Parade’, from ‘Phone Me If You’re Bored’
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The record retains a raw, organic edge that Smith has always favoured over the artificial purity of the professional recording studio. His first songs, released by the Badly Drawn Boy-co-founded Twisted Nerve back in 2003, were recorded on a four-track tape recorder.
“By nature and instinct I am an improvisor,” he explains. “From learning more about music before rock and roll and playing various engagements, I currently think of music more as a communal or social event than a composed, acutely produced piece of artwork.”
Living in the musical moment keeps Smith constantly moving from one project to the next. He plays in various bands, covering everything from rap to ragtime blues and ukulele funk disco. He has written the odd film score and, a few years ago, wrote and performed in a musical with a couple of friends.
“We were the actors, writers and the band,” he says. “I played a barman and had a keyboard built into the bar.” The first and, as yet, only performance at Manchester’s Green Room Theatre was a sell-out.
Despite this early success and his passion for musicals, Smith is non-committal about taking the project further. “I can’t remember why we did it really,” he says, dismissively. He seems too caught up in the creative flow to focus on goals for his prolific output. “I’d like to get the best set of songs out that I can possibly do, then do something else,” is the greatest ambition he can come up with.
At the moment the songs are coming faster than his label can put them out, with the sessions for ‘Phone Me If You’re Bored’ producing enough songs for another album and a half. He already has the next one, “an old love, new love album,” ready to release. He’s also working on a detective-themed album.
“It would be lovely to release as much as you wanted, whenever you wanted,” he says. “I could release it all online, I suppose.” In the end he’s just happy the music keeps coming: “There’s always something to make and something to show. That’s the pleasure of it really.”
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Words: Patrick Widdess
‘Phone Me If You’re Bored’ is out now on Interbang Records
Smith is due to tour the UK and Europe later this year. Keep up with his movements via his official website