In early 1999 Danny and I were living in a basement flat in North London, we had both given up our jobs at indie labels – Cherry Red in Danny’s case and Ultimate Records in mine, to pursue our own music full time. This was either a very bold move or a very stupid move. It felt like the only thing for us to do to be honest. I know it must have looked like madness to our family and friends, we were the wrong side of 25, but we just had to go for it. Personally, I thought my life would be incomplete if I never signed a record deal.
I didn’t know then of course, but that wasn’t really what I craved. That realisation came as we started to make music that was getting better and better and was more and more satisfying and consuming. We did sign a record deal, but more of that later.
It took a few years of making music full-time to start making the sort of sound we were after. I don’t think we ever really knew what that sound was, but we did know we were getting closer all the time. We worked intently in various London rehearsal studios; Vauxhall, Holloway Road, Old Street and Camden. We played gigs – The Falcon, The Water Rats, The White Horse, The Garage, The Venue.
Under various guises we toured with and had some tracks produced by Lloyd Cole, had a Single of the Week in ‘Melody Maker‘ and had been played by John Peel and Steve Lamacq on Radio 1. Musically, the last band we had were getting very close. We were called J.D. & Bob. and we rehearsed at Fortress Studio in Shoreditch – the same place as The Beta Band.
Corinne Day took these photos of us, on a disposable camera, at the Shoreditch Electricity Showroom in December 1998.
The songs Danny and I were writing were getting better too. We wrote ’Love Expression’ and ’Repentant Song’, (later recorded for ’Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy’) at this time.
Here I am on stage with J.D. & Bob, at The Garage in London, late 1998. Photos by the great, Justin Thomas, who later took the cover shot for ’Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy’
Mathew Priest had joined our ranks. His band Dodgy were on hiatus and he very kindly agreed to help us out. He turned us around from sounding amateur to sounding amazing and projected our songs forward magnificently.
We recorded demos for Island Records. A week in their basement studios in St. Peter’s Square. We were so happy with the music.
Here’s an early version of ‘Love Expression’ from that session, with Rob ‘Bob’ Whittle and Mathew Priest.
When the demos we recorded for Island didn’t get us a deal, we kind of fell apart.
The music we were making together was very special but we just weren’t strong enough as a band, to stand the rejection.
Danny and I holed up in our basement flat and started working with the Tascam 4-track tape recorder we had. No money. No band. A Boss Dr. Rhythm DR 55 drum machine, an old synth, our guitars and lots of ideas. We decided to call ourselves It’s Jo and Danny as a kind of ‘you and me against the world’ statement. The name got mixed feelings, but it forced us to dig deep musically.
In the spring of 1999 we persuaded the wonderful Brian O’Shaughnessy at Bark Studio in East London, to let us record an album on credit. We had demoed everything on the 4 track and made notes on how we would produce it. We asked some friends and fellow musicians to help us play the instruments we couldn’t play.
Ali Byworth and Martin Hoyland on drums (‘Solar Plexus’) and electric guitar (‘Love Expression’) both now in Welsh folk band 9 Bach. Darren Berry on drums (‘Arkle’ and ‘Repentant Song’), Mathew Priest on drums (‘Love Expression’) Marc Jordan on trumpet (‘Love Expression’, ‘Arkle’ and ‘Pilgrim’s Prayer’)
We bought ours clothes from skate shops and thrift stores.
This was a most fulfilling and wonderful time for us. We were living and breathing the album. I couldn’t wait to get to the studio each day to carry on recording. It was all I was thinking about. Feeding ourselves was just something to do so we could keep going, sleeping just divided the recording sessions. I was nervous the studio would get destroyed over night and the recordings would be lost.
When I heard the 7 minute opening track ‘Solar Plexus’ back through the big speakers for the fist time, I thought I was going to burst. Here it is – with Ali Byworth on drums and that’s me on the electric guitar that comes in mid-way though. Someone had left a Les Paul at the studio and I borrowed it to play on this track – sounded awesome!
The album was released on our own Double Snazzy label in September 1999.
We did everything ourselves, Danny used his Cherry Red skills to organise the artwork and production. I did the press, using the experience I had gained at Ultimate Records.
We got a 4 star review in ‘Q’ magazine and we were on a roll.
The album started to get noticed. We were contacted by Hall or Nothing press officers to ask if they could handle the PR for us. We said ‘yes’ and the album got re released, with Hall or Nothing now on board. The wonderful reviews continued to get written, it was a very exciting time for us. After all those years of trying, of getting close only to get pinged back again it seemed we were at last getting the attention we both knew this album deserved.
‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy’ album reviews:
‘A defining record’ NME 8/10
‘Heartfelt vocals and swathes of Vini Reilly-style guitar.’ Mojo 4 stars
‘Ferocious joie de verve’ Q 4 stars
‘Spellbinding’ The Times 4 stars
‘Loaded with sprit’ The Observer
‘Folk to feed your soul’ i.D. Magazine
‘Beautiful’ The Daily Telegraph
‘Spritualized fronted by Carol King’ The Face
‘a carefree fusion of Ancient and modern’ Uncut
We got a ‘phone call one morning saying we should listen to Jo Whiley’s lunch-time show on Radio 1 that day. What a buzz that was. ‘My producer and I have been arguing all morning about which track to play, as we could choose any of them’ ‘If you buy one album all year, make sure it’s this one’. She read the reviews out. It felt so good to hear her complimenting our music like that!
Jo Whiley played tracks from ’Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy’ three days in a row on her day-time Radio 1 show. Baring in mind this was an album released completely independently, on our own label, this was pretty incredible stuff. Our gig at The Water Rats in Kings Cross that week was mobbed – both with our own crowd and A&R people who’d come along to check us out.
Here’s ‘Repentant Song’ with Darren Berry on drums.
We had some European press in that night too – the album had started to pick up some great reviews in Italy. We made it to the cover of Italian music magazine ‘Il Mucchio Selvaggio’. The photo was taken at The Water Rats gig and I am seven months pregnant!
At this point in the story, Danny and I left London, where we had lived for a decade, and moved to the mountains of Wales. We also signed a record deal with R.C.A. Records. Oh, and had a baby boy. So life changed a fair bit quite quickly for us.
We had recorded 4 new tracks just before we left London. We wanted to release them as an EP, but R.C.A. advised us against, saying we should have ’Love Expression’ as the lead track. We made a video for it in our converted barn in the Brecon Beacons.
It was single of the week on the Virgin Radio Breakfast Showwith Pete and Geoff.
James Le Bon directed this.
Signing to the major label meant that we could keep the band that had played Water Rats gig together and start to properly play live.
That summer we played Glastonbury, T In The Park, Reading, Leeds and a few other festivals. This is a shot of Glastonbury, just after we had played.
We played in Amsterdam and in Paris. The European press were loving ’Lank Haired Girl…’ and we were getting asked intelligent questions about our music in interviews, which felt great. Then we messed up. We fell into disarray with the other musicians in the band for various reasons and played a really bad gig in Paris. All the Parisian music biz glitterati had turned up to see us. We were pretty much dropped after that night.
This poster is from that fateful night. ’Les Inrocks’, the fantastic French music magazine organises this festival every year – see Coldplay, Sigor Ros, St. Germain and Phoenix all playing on the same bill as us!
Back in London, the managing director of RCA, (who had signed us), left the label to start Modest Management where he would later represent One Direction. This left us exposed. We had no manager and after the Paris gig, we were very much flavour of last month. The new M.D. didn’t like us or our music at all.
We did play one gig in London, at Dingwalls at this time, with a new band, featuring some of the musicians we had started to record ‘Thugs Lounge‘ with. Even with this great review in the N.M.E., we couldn’t turn the negative feelings about us at R.C.A. around.
(Click on the ticket to see the live review. Thanks to Eamonn Walsh who recently posted the ticket to my Facebook page!)
People stopped returning our calls, one grown man even jumped into the lift to avoid talking to us. Previously we had been a priority act – people were tripping over themselves to tell us how amazing we were. Such a quick change was pretty confusing and a little depressing. We had been dropped.
We did record an album called ’Thugs Lounge’ while signed to RCA. They gave it a very soft release and that was pretty much that. Our time on a major label was over.
The album got a few great reviews (4 stars in ’The Times’) and a quite a few howlers (1 star ’The Guardian’ – ouch!) Our first bad reviews, and they stung.
We played a few live dates to promote the album; a great night in Dublin and this one at The West End Centre in Aldershot, where Danny and I used to run The Buzz Club. Anyone paying close attention can also see how much of an influence Dan Treacy’s nights in London, back in our C-86 days were…
But you know what, even after we got dropped, things were ok. It took a while to get over it, but life was ok.
When we were ready, we went back in the studio to record a new album. We mainly recorded it at the fabulous Rockfield Studio (where ’Bohemian Rhapsody’ among many others, was recorded.) in Wales. We had a really good time recording, with Brian O’Shaughnessy (who we had recorded ‘Lank Haired Girl…’ with) back in the engineer’s seat. We stayed at the studio.
Brecon, where we lived, wasn’t too far away and family came and helped with the baby, so we could focus on the music. I was actually pregnant again. The studio had given us a cheaper rate if we did the cooking ourselves, so when other musicians joined us, we made supper and ate together.
And so we made ’But We Have The Music’ (from the Leonard Cohen line ‘We are ugly, but we have the music’). We finished recording it back at Bark in East London. Ali Byworth, who had drummed on ’Solar Plexus’ was back on drums.
Damon Reece, who had been the drummer in Echo and The Bunnymen and Spritualized also drums on the album. He played on Spiritualized’s classic album ’Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space’
We had Lee Goodall from Van Morrison’s band on flute. Gary Aylesbrook (who was playing trumpet with the Super Fury Animals at the time), played in our live band and on a few tracks here too. Finally, a fabulous rapper from Cardiff called Nayton The Watcha and Jackie and Joan, two fiddle players from Edinburgh, came along at various points to join us in the recording.
We had timed ’But We Have The Music“s release to coincide with the first Green Man Festival, in August 2003. We thought the fact we were starting our own festival would add interest to the release. It worked.
‘But We Have The Music’ on iTunes
The album did get great reviews. The Sunday Times made it their Album of the Week.
The album came out at the same time as the festival took place. We played the first ever Green Man as a 6 piece band. We very quickly rehearsed with some of the musicians just before we went on. The UK tour Danny and I had just played, was just the two of us with a laptop. It was a pretty lonely tour to be honest – so this performance, at our own festival, felt amazing!
Here we are on the ’main stage’ (there was no stage) with the snazzy Green Man back-drop. August 25th 2003. The band are – Mathew Priest on drums, Richard King on guitar, Gary Aylesbrook on trumpet and Lee Goodall on flute.
This review got it about right! ’Billboard Magazine’ in America.
’Let It Happen’ directed by Jason Glenister.
We had these stickers made for the ’But We Have The Music’ cd sleeves.
This is ’It Should Have Been Me’ with Damon Reece on drums – lyrically you can hear we were still smarting somewhat from having been dropped.
The album got released on Victor Records in Japan….
…and in Spain on I*M Records. We went over to Madrid and were interviewed on national radio. ‘The Spanish John Peel’ we were told. We also got filmed for Spanish tv. Again, we had our two very young children with us and we were working on the 2004 Green Man.
and Kontext Records in Germany.
Just after the 2004 Green Man, we went over to Germany to play a few dates that Dirk, who ran Kontext Records, had arranged. It was still just Danny and myself with a lap top and a couple of guitars. This time though, we were joined by Jason Glenister who had directed the ‘Let Happen’ video for us. Jason projected films he had made over the top of us while we played.
Here’s some great footage of us on stage in Berlin playing ‘Kiss My Shadow’. Jason’s films were complimented by Michael Nyman, who came backstage afterwards.
Jason took these shots of myself and Danny on stage in Hamburg.
When we returned from the German dates we were exhausted. The Green Man Festival had really started to take-over our lives. Our children were still very young, but we were so motivated, we pushed through. It was an absolute magnet; organising the next festival.
We played a gig at the I.C.A. in London, still using the laptop but really missed working with other musicians.
Here’s a flier designed by Jon Clee.
We had also started writing what was to become ’The Quickening’, the fourth It’s Jo and Danny album.
Musically we were very isolated. We had to travel to London or Bristol to rehearse with a band, which was very hard to organise.
After the 2004 Green Man we knew what to do though.
Our friend Tom, who ran the record shop in Hay-on-Wye first played us the cd by Daimh. We loved it instantly and so booked them for the festival.
I’ve never seen the power of music more magnificently then I did on that evening at the Green Man 2004. As people walked past the main stage tent where they were playing, they were drawn to the music and came in. The tent filled and filled. Everyone was dancing, the atmosphere was euphoric. People kept coming up to Danny and I and thanking us. I was in tears throughout their set. It really was incredible.
Anyway…..we had the cheek to ask Daimh if they would be on our next album. Thankfully they said ‘yes’. We recorded back at Bark in Walthamstow with Brian O’Shaughnessy and flew the guys down from Inverness on an Easy Jet flight.
We hadn’t ever rehearsed with Diamh and they had never heard our music. In fact, it turned out they thought they were coming down to record their own music for a Green Man compilation album and were very surprised when I got my guitar out!
‘The Quickening’ on iTunes
We worked incredibly hard over the next few days, playing our songs and recording. It was great but also very tiring. We all went for an Indian meal in Stoke Newington when we were done and had a brilliant night.
The album was far from finished though. We had also asked our old band-mate from the Surrey days, Rudy Carroll to play some guitar and piano. Which he did beautifully.
The final part of the brew was a percussionist from East London called Des Morgan.
We decided not to have any electronica on this record, no trickery, just straight music. We mixed the musicians around across the tracks though.
The night Danny, Brian and myself finished the album, I unwound so much through the relief of completing the project, that I laughed hysterically, unable to stop, freaking Danny and Brian out slightly. It had been so hard to write, organise and record this record, but we had done it and we were very proud of the results.
We took the cover photo in Richmond, with our dear friend Justin Thomas on camera duty again. Justin took the ’Lank Haired Girl…’ album cover and fantastic shots of our previous band, J.D. & Bob at The Garage. He had only brought a huge lens with him by mistake. We had to sit under the tree, miles away and stay in touch by ‘phone. People wondered what on earth we were doing!
We tried the idea of releasing our new album to coincide with the Green Man again, to get maximum exposure.
Here’s ’In Spite Of Love’ from ’The Quickening’.
The album got some wonderful reviews. Including this 4 star one, written by Peter Paphides in ’The Times’.
We played the festival that year but with no time to rehearse, we weren’t great. We had members of Daimh, Rudy and Des join us on stage, but it was all very ramshackle.
The festival got a 5 star review from ’The Times’, which featured the most God-awful photo of me singing. The Green Man was so off the scale in terms of taking over our lives by then, my hair was all crazy looking and my face is pure stress personified. (It was also one of the most incredible weekends of my life, Green Man that year).
After that festival we were meant to play some dates in Spain but we were in no condition to do so. We had to cancel them which in effect got us dropped by our Spanish label.
We did manage to play a short UK tour. We asked Mathew Priest and Rudy Carroll if they would complete the live band with Danny and myself. Although there wasn’t really much energy left for It’s Jo and Danny at this point, this was however, the start of our next musical venture – The Yellow Moon Band.
It’s Jo and Danny on iTunes