A.J. Holmes And The Hackney Empire

I joined A.J. Holmes & the Hackney Empire at the launch party for their debut album Wedding at the Victoria, Dalston on 26th January 2013. I have seen the band live a few times before and have always had a fantastic time. The first time I saw them I ended up doing the conga train around their stage at Hyde Park! This concert was no exception, the venue was completely packed and filled with a real party atmosphere. 
As well as photographing the band onstage, I was also lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview singer/guitarist/songwriter A.J. Holmes, who was lively, articulate and really great company. We discussed filming their recent music video with Billy Bragg, the creative process, and what plans the Hackney Empire have for the near future. 
How the band formed: I gave a CD of my music to the then booker of the Royal Festival Hall, Glenn Max, and I didn’t think anything more of it really, I just thought it was a bit of a long shot in a way, so I gave him a CD that I’d titled A.J Holmes & the Hackney Empire and didn’t hear anything back for 3 months…
…And then Glenn contacted me and said “I’ve got a gig for you with David Byrne! so bring the Hackney Empire”. Well there was no Hackney Empire at this point! So I had to quickly form a band. So within 1 week I had formed a band and it was great experience.

Performing: The funny thing is I never originally wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be a guitar player. That was where my passion was, but I could never find anyone to sing my songs the way I felt they should be sung. So I had to do it myself, it was by default. Then I learnt to really enjoy singing and I thought, right lets have some fun with it.
Songwriting: We have only recently begun to write together. When the band first formed our material was all my songs, but then the band progressed and now we write a little bit more organically…

…The guitarist, Martyn, might come up with a riff that might inspire me to write a song, or drummer, Gedman, might have some ideas for a drum pattern, so the band give me a lot of ideas now… 
…The songwriting doesn’t really come out of jam sessions though, that doesn’t work for us. What seems to work is demos. We tend to make demos of our ideas, for example bass player Abi might send us a more or less fully formed musical idea or sketch, and I’ll process it and turn it into a song structure.
Highlights from 2012: It was a very productive year. We recorded our second album which we plan to release later this year. Another of the main highlights from 2012 was filming our music video for A13 Trunk Road To The Sea with Billy Bragg…

Working with Billy Bragg: We approached him to be in our music video for A13 Trunk Road To The Sea; I pretty much wrote him a begging letter! I know that people who are famous are extremely busy but he just managed to squeeze us in. I think that as we are both born in the same town in Barking, he had a bit of a soft spot for that. Also the fact that we’d covered one of his songs of course gave us a road in.

…It was a really pleasant experience {filming the video}. Billy Bragg was very civil & very authoritative. He was like an Uncle. He was very stern, but he had a great sense of humour. He was as I had expected him to be so he made us feel quite relaxed. I was quite nervous about working with him because I admire the guy so much.
Plans for 2013: Initially we are going to release a couple of singles. We are mixing the next album now and so we will trickle out a few singles and probably put out our second album by the end of the year. It’s all recorded so it’s just got to be produced and mixed. We’ve produced and mixed two tracks already with our friend EKO. We also want to do a tour to promote our Wedding album. 
Next Album: We will play 2 new songs from our next album at this evenings gig to provide a sneak preview. I have a working title for the next album which is Soft Power. I don’t think the band know that yet though so that’s an exclusive!
Stage Outfits: I gave the initial idea to an amazing designer called Iman Ogoo. I gave her some reference points of pearly kings and Congolese Sapeurs, she created ideas from there. We all bought our own stage clothes and then Iman Ogoo put her designs on them.

A.J. Holmes & the Hackney Empire’s debut album can be purchased through itunes and their record label Moringa Music’s website: http://moringamusic.com/artist/aj-holmes-and-the-hackney-empire
Please check out A.J. Holmes & the Hackney Empire’s website: http://ajholmesandthehackneyempire.co.uk/
You can see the music video for A13 Trunk Road To The Sea (featuring Billy Bragg) here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdXsm81FkBo
Many thanks for visiting my photoblog
Samantha x

Beside the Seaside

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