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Made In England, Loving France

30/09/2015 17:04 BST | Updated 29/09/2016 10:12 BST

Traditionally, American rock bands that couldn't make it big in the United States used to move to England. The idea was that in this smaller country, it would be easier for major record companies to spot them and sign a recording contract. Jimi Hendrix was the finest example of this - as soon as he became famous in London his stardom snowballed all around the world. Sometimes though it has worked the other way, giving British bands their big break because they stand out more in the USA.

So why would English men Chris James and Steve Bell attempt to make their rock and roll fortune in France? "The delicious wine", says Chris, and that's hard to argue! Actually though, the two of them met at a live concert in France and - as rockers do - started chatting about guitar effects units. Steve remembers, "I was playing with another band, and Chris noticed my pedalboard had English plugs, and came up and started talking." Chris replies, "thank God I noticed those plugs!"

They got on so well that they decided to form a band together, back in 2013. Both had been doing solo work for a while, and Chris was looking for a lead guitarist, while Steve needed a singer. They met up and, "it gelled very well", they tell me. The name was suggested by a French musician friend of Steve's. "The roots of our music literally are made in England. French popular music culture is very different, and we liked this name because it tells the audience they're going to hear 'the real deal'", he adds. Chris says, "it's only when I lived in France that I realised how made in England I really am..."

Now, the band has grown to a four-piece. Romain Mottier has joined as the drummer and Tim Fairs is on bass. They provide a firm footing for Chris's vocals, electro-acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Steve's electric guitars and lap steel guitar. The guys are now playing live concerts regularly and have built up a strong following amongst local music fans; they have also just released their first album, All Our Dreams, on CD.

Steve says he has always loved France. "We used to take our holidays here so we knew the place, and when the opportunity came to move over we jumped at it. I also make and repair guitars, which is something you can do just as easily in rural France as you can in my home town of Newcastle. I think you should follow your instincts on these things; we had lived all over England, and it wasn't the first time we made a radical move."

Chris thinks French life is more relaxed than in Britain, "and this is highly conducive to writing and playing music". He describes himself as a city boy, so is long way from his roots living in beautiful, rural Normandy. "There is a big difference in life experiences. Steve and I both had tough urban upbringings which have fed a real energy - sometimes even a fury - into our music. You really feel you're singing from a deeply English place when you hit the stage here. I think our fans like that because it sets us apart." Steve adds, "the French know we're English even before we open our mouths and murder their language!"

Chris comes from a musical family going back several generations; his ninety year old father still sings on stage, while his brother is in a band and his mother plays piano. "I must have been about six years old when I started singing. I did my first live performance at twelve and turned professional at nineteen." Steve started playing guitar aged six, then was in several orchestras and started playing rock music from fourteen.

Both men adore nineteen seventies rock - which was a brilliant time for British music. Steve loves David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. All three had their golden period through the mid seventies, but the louder, faster, angrier punk rock music that followed it is also special for him, and he's a huge fan of The Damned and The Clash. Chris says that he loves Bowie too, plus Peter Gabriel for his unique vocal style.

Made In England is a classic rock band with a slight American 'blues' feel. They play beautifully; although the music is loud and hard, it's also surprisingly subtle and tender too. Because they're both great musicians, they don't feel the need to force things out. Chris says that Steve plays from his heart. "He's the most honest and generous artist I've ever known. I think for myself, music is my life - singing and performing is the thing I can really do, and it's when I catch fire and come alive."

The greatest rock bands get their distinctive sound from the way the lead musicians play with one another. It's not just about being a guitar hero or singing star, it is the ability to empathise with others and work together. This runs right through the music of Made In England too. "Chris is the brother that I never had, and I love him dearly," confesses Steve. "British rock has a great reputation in Europe and America as'the real thing, it represents all our hopes and dreams."

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