Christopher Eatough: Interview

5 p.m. strikes down on a Friday in Manchester the end of another working week. People trickle out of the offices with a sense of relief and satisfaction on their faces, beaming at the unseasonably sunny April weather. The bars start filling up with those people supping their first cool pint of the weekend. And Manchester Music is joining them, sat in the corner of the Lass O’Gowrie with upcoming Manchester singer-songwriter Christopher Eatough. Part of the upcoming folk and acoustic movement in the city, his intelligent and articulate tales of people and circumstance carve a channel across the Atlantic from the whisky-soaked troubadour observations of Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst, yet shot through with an English subtlety and sensitivity. It’s unusual to find someone writing songs with this level of honesty and integrity, and we’re keen to find out a little more about the man behind these sad, moving, gripping snapshots of life.

Having formerly sang and played in bands since the age of 14, Christopher admits he “sort of fell in” to becoming a singer-songwriter. “I moved to Manchester in 2008 and the band split up,” he says. “I had a few songs left over that hadn’t really fitted in with what we were doing and it just went from there.” Having recorded a set of demos with friend and producer Adam Green, Chris’s music was picked up on by Pat Fogarty of successful Manchester band The Answering Machine, who helped him get his first shows around the city. This was, Chris admits, “really supportive” in helping him establish a presence in the local scene. Through picking up a fanbase as a result of regular shows and appearances on both BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Cambridge, Christopher has become something of a cult act in Manchester. Not that it’s always easy. “Manchester is still often looking for the next Oasis. It’s often the case that acoustic acts get put on first, there’s this feeling that bands are what people want to see,” he explains. “It can get frustrating sometimes. It’s one thing to look good, quite another to have the songs. Of course, many bands are all about the sound and that can be great. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to have good songs. There’s nothing more important.”

Discussing this point further with Chris, it becomes clear that he sees the art of songwriting and the structure of his songs as the central factor in everything he does: “I don’t tend to say a lot on stage; the songs should speak for themselves.” Equally interesting, he describes his process of songwriting as being “pretty unconscious... the majority of my songs I don’t remember writing.” Pressed further on the subject of his seemingly structured and intellectual lyrics; he surprisingly reports that they are written in exactly the same vein. “I don’t like to prune or redraft my lyrics. If I went back, I’d change things and lose what I felt in the moment. You’ve got to stick close to the feeling you’re trying to convey.” Eschewing politics and grandiose statements in his lyrics (“I really respect the likes of Billy Bragg and Dylan, what they’re trying to do, but I don’t feel right with that”), he finds inspiration in specific people and characters as propulsion for his lyrics. “People baffle me” admits Christopher. “They're so horrible, twisted and damaged. I guess writing is a way of getting your head around it.” An example is his song ‘Plastic Pearls’: “I wrote it when I was on holiday in Las Vegas. We came down at 4am to go to the Grand Canyon and there was this old lady sat there. She was still in the same seat as the night before, clutching a glass of whisky and chain-smoking, wearing this old cocktail dress and cheap plastic jewellery.” He looks down at his drink. “It was the most tragic thing. I just had to write about it.” He pauses for a moment, thoughtful. Then with a quick headshake, repeats: “People confuse me.”

In a world where people rely on gimmicks and tricks to put themselves at the forefront of attention, it’s immensely refreshing to hear an artist talk so honestly about the role of songwriting and how “everything else doesn’t matter if you don’t have songs that mean something. It can’t be an afterthought”. He namechecks both Liam Frost (“One of the only people in Manchester doing something genuinely interesting as a solo artist”) and Elbow (“The pinnacle of that intelligent, harmonic sound”) as local inspirations to his songs and sound, as well as classic American songwriters. This leads onto another pint and another discussion: why does he feel that we don’t have the same tradition of singer-songwriters in this country, as opposed to the USA where they are more omnipresent in both the charts and the numerous lauded and inspirational solo artists? “I’m not sure,” admits Chris. “Maybe they’ve got that mythical heritage in the US. You know, Tin Pan Alley, Folk Traditions, Johnny Cash hitch-hiking into the middle of nowhere with his guitar. I’d like to bring that tradition in my music. It’s so under-rated”.

With a forthcoming three-track single due for release in early June on Heist or Hits Records, and forthcoming shows at the Back to the Future Charity showcase at Night and Day Café on 17th April, as well as an appearance at the prestigious Eurocultured Festival in Manchester on 30th May, it seems clear that Christopher is set to expand his profile significantly in the near future. But he’s still keen to continue developing his sound. “I’m looking to get a band together,” he explains. “It’s great playing solo because you can connect intimately with the audience, but with a band you have the chance to add more textures and sounds, to really bring everything to life.” Beyond that, he avoids setting himself specific goals: “I don’t have a master plan. Once you start with plans they can easily go wrong.”

We finish our conversation and our drinks by discussing what you’d listen to if an asteroid were about to obliterate the earth (Christopher goes for ‘29’ by Ryan Adams: “So bleak, it’d help me accept the fact that we really are screwed!”). And then as we head off into the welcome sunshine of this Friday evening, I’m struck with Christopher’s integrity, focus and, above all, genuine dedication to the vital importance of the songwriting process: the art and the application. And in a world where it has become easy to mock classic songwriting for being 'cheesy' and lavish high praise for simply wearing your guitar as near to your scuffed Converse as possible, this honesty connects with special relevance. Maybe this is why this young man is writing some of the best songs in Manchester today, with a genuine desire to get out there and bring his music to the attention of as many people as possible. From hearing his latest tracks and obtaining an insight into his drive and commitment, it seems clear that Christopher Eatough will be one of the key faces to watch in the next 12 months. As he says: “What I want to do is to write, record and play music that is as good as it possibly can be. If you can do that, then hopefully people should understand what you’re doing and get into it. That’s my aim really”.

 David Edwards / April 2010







pictures courtesy of CE

chris eatough on the web


(c) (p) mybigmouth for 2010