John Bramwell: ‘I don’t think I was cut out for mainstream success’

“It’s a question of improvising, really,” says John Bramwell, the former I Am Kloot singer, songwriter and guitarist of maintainting a busy touring schedule throughout the past two pandemic-affected years.

By Duncan Seaman
Thursday, 7th April 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th April 2022, 1:11 pm
John Bramwell. Picture: Anthony Harrison
John Bramwell. Picture: Anthony Harrison

Whenever it was legal to play gigs, Bramwell could be found out and about the country peforming and he has carried on with that frame of mind. “So I’m on a kind of constant tour now,” he says. “I do two or three gigs a week every week.”

The skills he learned booking bands for The Night and Day Cafe in Manchester in the 1990s have served him well as a DIY artist. “When it was the socially distanced gigs, you could have a maximum of 60 people in a marquee, so we knew we were going to sell that out, so it was actually quite easy,” he says. “We’d just come to an arrangement with the people who run it, we didn’t ask for any money up front. All the pubs and places were really struggling so I’ve got a small PA that I was able to bring with me a lot of the time.

“I’ve got my camper van, I’ve got my dog and a couple of guitars and that was that. I really enjoyed that. It’s been great to play places I wouldn’t normally play, just as a one-off-event. I’m always going to carry on booking gigs with me and (cellist) Harriet (Bradshaw), so if there’s anyone who wants to get in touch about that, just go to my website.”

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The Weetwood Weekender, staged by Headingley record shop The Vinyl Whistle at Weetwood Hall Hotel in Leeds, which he’s playing at on Easter Sunday with Bradshaw, will be his only festival this year, though. The rest are scheduled for 2023, after his new album, The Light Fantastic, with his current band the Full Harmonic Convergence comes out. In October he is due to support The Proclaimers on their UK tour.

Since the break-up six years ago of I Am Kloot, the trio best known for their album Sky At Night which was nominated for the Mercury Prize, Bramwell’s focus has been on making the most of every gig. “I think that was always the start off point in the first place,” he says. “I got into being able to make really great albums like Kloot’s last two (Sky At Night and Let It All In), and the one I’ve just made now, which unfortunately has not yet been released because of Covid but it will be out this October, but the gig was always the most important thing to me.

“I often found studios could be a bit stultifying, but I now record using all my own equipment, I’ve basically set up my cellar as a recording studio so it’s a lot more off the cuff for me and spontaneous.

“That sounds negative but I don’t really engage with the normal music business. I was lucky enough to have had quite a lot of success with Kloot and then really be able to run with it myself, the media and radio still view me as a contemporary artist. I have been offered stuff where everything’s retro but doing stuff that’s different and off the cuff is much more interesting.”

With The Light Fantastic’s release delayed by two years, Bramwell has cracked on writing another record. “I’ll be recording the follow-up in January,” he reports. “I carry on writing all the time. The main thing was not to mess with that album, it’s got its own time and place with the people I was playing with etcetera. I could have gone ‘take that song out, here’s a new one’ but I’d rather just think of it as the next LP. But I’ve got to say everyone that’s hear (The Light Fantastic) has said, ‘You’ve found a nice magic in it, something similar to Natural History, Kloot’s first LP’.”

This year is Natural History’s 21st anniversary. Bramwell has no special plans to mark the milestone in 2022 but he reveals: “I think there will be a re-release with extras, the demos and everything from that time, but again, everyone’s been waiting on me getting my album out, which has been tricky. We’ll see the Kloot stuff hopefully next year.”

Despite coming close to considerable chart success on more than one occasion with I Am Kloot, as he looks back on the band’s legacy now, 57-year-old Bramwell says: “I don’t think I was particularly cut out for mainstream success.

“At the time I wasn’t aware of the politics of the music industry and a lot of the time I began to feel it was a bit of a tawdry fix. When we got the Mercury nomination that’s exactly what I thought, that suddenly we were on the right side of a tawdry fix. The people on mainstream radio I was not particularly inspired by them, a lot of them are reading it off a teleprompter. I was on a famous person’s radio show and the prompter broke down and they just didn’t know what to do at all, it was quite amazing, and I was told very sternly in a kind of frightening manner never to mention this to anybody. I’m off the cuff and pretty witty and spontaneous, I thought I’m not a***ing around in a world that’s ultimately dry so I don’t think (mainstream success) was ever really on the cards. You know, word gets round pretty quick.”

As for his intimate style of writing, he says: “I’m pretty spontaneous with my lyric-writing. I do spend a long time on a song but I don’t over-think it. I suppose that the language is pretty intricate and poetic.” Much of his inspiration is derived from books. His current reading list includes A Species With Amnesia by Graham Hancock, Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick and Six Days in August by John Surtees, the motorcycle world champion. “It’s a book on his thoughts on him starting in motor racing in the late 1960s, it’s a very time evocative book. I like motorcycle racing and John Surtees I always thought was a really interesting guy.”

John Bramwell headlines the Weetwood Weekender on Sunday April 17; the bill also includes Jonny Brown of Twisted Wheel and Nigel Clark of Dodgy. For tickets visit John Bramwell also plays at the Peak Cavern in Castleton, Derbyshire on May 20.