Lee Gordon band do it their way
Norwich-based singer Lee Gordon and his band have set their sights on the big time. With a self-funded debut album and gigs in London under their belt they will play their biggest headline show so far at the city’s Waterfront club later this month. They told CHRIS TRACY about their passion, independence – and recording in pig sheds.
The history of rock 'n 'roll is littered with the careers of those with less than auspicious beginnings. Morrissey was a hospital porter and Elvis Costello started out on the road to fame and fortune as a data entry clerk. Yet few performers have gone to the lengths of converting a disused pig shed into a studio in order to record their debut album.
That Lee Gordon and his band did so is a testament to the focused determination that has seen the resulting record, Fire in My Hands, fuel a buzz that has spread to London and beyond.
But over a coffee in Norwich's Forum, after showcasing their talents on a live session on BBC Radio Norfolk, 27-year-old Gordon and bandmates Darren Woolner (bass) and Carl Cole (drums) - who joined the band just a few weeks ago - display an endearingly phlegmatic attitude to the possibility of impending stardom.
The July album launch sold out Norwich Arts Centre, and gigs at the capital's prestigious Borderline venue, which has hosted the likes of one of this year's biggest music success stories, The Magic Numbers, have preceded their show at the 700-capacity Waterfront venue in King Street on Thursday December 15.
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And they hope to secure slots at some of the big-name music festivals next summer.
But while the band have apparently quickly acquired a devoted local following, Gordon has certainly paid his dues on the traditional struggling-musician highway.
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Since leaving the South-East in his early 20s - he's originally from the seaside town of Margate - periods of travelling (he ended up in Norwich via Australia) interspersed with a variety of jobs, including chef and bar manager, have sharpened a hunger for success, albeit on his own terms.
"We all do this because we suck at everything else," he jokes. "And although it's hard sometimes being independent and not having national promotion, you just have to be really pushy and make it happen for yourself."
Which brings us to the pig shed. Located near Frettenham, the building in question required extensive work, but Gordon and Woolner proved themselves adept at turning pig stalls into soundbooths. In all it cost £8000 to kit out the studio and record the album.
"We soundproofed it and managed to record the bulk of the album there, although we moved things to my flat when the roof collapsed," Gordon says.
Having started to play guitar when he was 13, by playing along to heavy metal songs in his bedroom, early inspiration came from artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young and, in time, the Seattle grunge scene, especially Pearl Jam.
It wasn't until his later teens however that Gordon seriously began writing his own songs and he played his first gig when he was 22.
He formed the band two and a half years ago and he and Woolner both took the risk of giving up their day jobs to concentrate on the music full time.
The band was initially known as the Lee Gordon Trio, but was changed to Lee Gordon.
"Although we use my name as the band's name, we are very much a band," Gordon stresses.
Asked to describe the band's sound, he displays uncharacteristic indecision, but eventually settles on "diverse".
"Really the music is made up of three basic parts," he says. "The songs are mostly written on acoustic guitar, so there's the singer-songwriter thing. But since Carl joined a couple of weeks ago the rockier, band-led material has become more prominent, and there has always been a rootsy, blues-based edge to the songs as well. So really there's something for everyone," he says.
While Gordon's performances certainly seem to have struck a chord - one female gushes on his website: "He plays with such passion and confidence…sing me to sleep you beautiful man" - what really comes across when meeting the band is their passionate belief in the DIY ethic.
The early idealists of punk are brought to mind, and for all his obvious ambition, when Gordon says: "London isn't the be-all and end-all," you believe him.
Indeed, the band agree that although many local acts draw on musical influences from across the rock and pop spectrum, there is a shared sense of defiant individuality bolstered by participating in what they describe as Norwich's thriving music scene. "Obviously bands like Kaito are doing more of the art-rock kind of thing that is very popular at the moment, but I like them and also SomeBestFriend and Deltaville, who are playing with us at the Waterfront," he says.
Lee Gordon are one of a host of Norwich bands who, given a few breaks, have the quality to break into the wider national consciousness in the coming year.
Drummer Cole has only one concern - having to learn to play 13 songs in a couple of weeks.
"This time last month I wasn't even in the band. Now I might be playing in front of 700 people," he says.
Lee Gordon play Norwich Waterfront on Thursday December 15. Support comes from SomeBestFriend and Deltaville, who were both runners-up at last month's final of the Next Big Thing II competition run by the EDP's Event magazine and the Evening News. Tickets £5. Box office: 01603 508050 or www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk