Music interview: Leeds singer Paul Stone

Paul Stone
Paul Stone
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“IT’S funny,” says Leeds-based singer Paul Stone with a smile, “because for years they’ve been talking in the music industry that people are so busy, they don’t have time. Suddenly people do have time to listen to what you do and you are so busy. I love it – being busy is progression.”

At the moment the blond crooner from Birkenshaw is very busy indeed preparing a major promotional push for his debut album Reprise of Swing, with the backing of BBC Radio 2.

From April 6 he’ll be appearing on various shows on the station, including Paul O’Grady’s, whose producer Malcolm Prince has been “incredibly supportive” of the former Leeds College of Music student. Another fan is Wes Butters of BBC Radio Leeds; in January Stone was also played a gig at Media City in Salford which was broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.

It’ll be preceded by a single, a cover version of the Simple Minds’ hit Don’t You Forget About Me, arranged in a swing style. On his album it sits alongside big band takes on U2’s With Or Without You, Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire, Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game and the Doobie Brothers’ Long Train Running as well as original material.

The idea for the record stems from classic crooners Frank Sinatra and Paul Anka, both of whom adapted pop and rock songs in a jazz and easy listening vein.

“It’s taking on board the craft of a well written song and putting a slight twist on it for a commercial audience, not just jazz,” says Stone. “It’s somewhere between jazz and crossover.”

Music has been Stone’s life since childhood. He tried the pop and Nashville route but swing was his real passion.

“I started [singing] professionally when I was 23 or 24 but I’ve been a musician since I was born, I suppose,” he says. “I was learning instruments from six years of age. Once music is in you if you are not doing it it becomes quite difficult. I’ve had times when I’ve not been as busy as I would have liked to have been. It almost gives you a gig fix. If I’ve gone two weeks without performing you start to get itchy to get out and do what you do.”

Having been in demand for corporate and charity events, he’s looking to arrange a tour of his own. His 11-piece band, with whom he recorded Reprise of Swing at Real World Studios in London, was assembled from performers at Leeds College College of Music and the Northern College of Music in Manchester.

The material on the album was carefully road-tested. “It was a process of elimination we went through and trialled what the public responded to,” Stone explains.

It was recorded live in the studio – “like in the Sinatra days” – to give it “a vibe”. The aim arrangements was to be “tasteful”.

“You can never make an original song better than the original – that’s not my aim at all,” he says. “The idea is to celebrate how great these songs are and to perform them in a different light to connect with a new fan base.”

Reprise of Swing was originally released in a limited edition last year then swiftly withdrawn. The idea was to build up demand through word of mouth – and the plan seems to have worked.

Stone says: “We had such a great response to it when we put it out. It sold. But I knew it was never going to sell the volume it needed to to get up to the next level so we took it off sale. We thought we would let people play it. People heard it at other people’s houses.”

Now with radio behind it, the album is set to re-emerge. Don’t You Forget About Me has been mastered for iTunes and will be available to pre-order from this weekend.

Stone hopes it’ll be the start of a long career. He’s even in talks about getting a song synched in a Hollywood film.

“From an artist point of view, self-driven is the way I describe my take on what I do,” he says. “You have got to keep pushing even when people keep closing doors on you and putting phones down.

“It’s a statistical game. What I’ve realised is if you put [your record] out to 100 people [in the industry] you may get five [replies] back. If the music is all right you won’t even get a look in. We are putting it out to people saying, ‘Here’s what we are doing, we’d like it If you can support us’. The response has been great. It’s nice, it’s a really great feeling.”

Paul Stone plays on the main stage of The Grand Depart, Skipton on July 5 at 10.20am, and at An Audience with Merrill Osmond at Leeds City Varieties on August 31.