Musician Of The Week: Oxford University Student And Folk/Rock Singer Nick Hampson

Meet: Nicholas Hampson.

"I am a 20 year old songwriter and poet studying for a BA in Musicology at Oxford. I have a self-released solo album and have completed a summer tour which included stops in New York City, festivals in the UK and multiple stops in London.

"I have only been at Oxford for one term, but am already making my way as a prominent figure within the scene, having done a live set on the student radio. I am to play at the Phoenix Picture House in the second week of this coming term."

How long have you been playing?

I was brought up as a classical musician, and specifically as a boy chorister at Wells Cathedral. However, my father used to play classic rock albums in the car and would teach me about all of the various bands and singers of a by-gone time.

I remember skipping school one day - I must have been 11 – and my mum and I drove up to Birmingham for a guitar fair. I come home with a shiny PRS Santana, and a small Marshall practice amp.

However, for the first few years the prospect of practicing scales got too daunting and I ended up neglecting the electric guitar, focusing more on my other instruments which I had to play as part of my classical music education. It wasn’t until I bought an acoustic guitar that things really began to take off with my guitar playing. At this stage I must have been 15. I immediately started trying to write songs like the ones I loved listening to. I supposed I haven’t looked back since.

What genre of music do you play?

I guess I play folk rock music. The main definitive feature about my style of writing though is that it is very focused on the lyrics.

My ambition is to be a songwriter, poet and author, so the songs I write tend to exist as poems and stories set to music. People so often neglect the lyrics to songs, but I think they are just as important as the music, if not more so. It’s the sort of thing that writers such as Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen have been doing for years. I’m trying to carry that tradition forward.

Why did you start playing?

I was always destined from a young age to be a classical performer, but I realised very quickly that it wasn’t going to be what I wanted to spend my life doing. I still do a lot of classical music – I’m studying for a BA in Musicology at Oxford at the moment and still doing a lot of classical performance, but it takes a backseat to my focus on gigging, writing and recording my songs.

There’s a lot that can be learned and applied from classical music to song writing and I’m working hard on discovering what all of those things are. The main reason I started writing songs was actually to attempt to ‘move’ people to the extent that my most loved songwriters have affected me.

I truly believe that songs, art and music in general is an amazingly powerful tool, whether politically, or even on a very personal level. I’m definitely not the same person I was a few years ago, and I attribute a lot of that transformation to the songs which I took with me along the way. If I could someday affect even just one person enough that they start to make positive changes to their life then I think it would make it all worthwhile.

What’s your most memorable musical moment?

My most memorable musical moment is actually within a classical context. When I was fourteen, before my voice broke, I sang a season of The Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House. We were the only children with feature roles and so we got to have our own personal bow at the end.

I remember the very first night that we performed the opera. It was a ‘schools performance’ meaning the entire audience was full of children who got to go and watch for free. For some reason, when we ran out from backstage, we got the loudest cheer I think I’ve ever heard. I guess it was because we were the only kids performing and they could relate to that.

I don’t know. I just know it was a pretty beautiful thing. I think my favourite musical moment within a song writing context was when I played in New York City, my first ever international show, and the room was packed. There were candles on all the tables and everyone was silent. It was one of those sorts of bars that you read about in old stories about Bob Dylan and the beat poets. It really felt like a special moment.

What’s your dream?

To never give up dreaming.

Who’s your idol and who would you most compare yourself to? (Dead or alive...)

My idol for all of my teenage years, to a fairly obsessive level, was Conor Oberst. He is the lead singer of a band from Omaha, Nebraska called Bright Eyes. His music always manages to be the friend that you need when no one else is there. This was something I really cherished during those years, for one reason or another.

There did, however, come a point, probably once I had listened through his entire discography an unhealthy number of times, that I started to listen to the people who had inspired his generation of songwriters. I now focus a lot of my time on the work of Leonard Cohen, Elliot Smith, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake… but also on poets such as Allen Ginsberg, and authors like Jack Kerouac.

I guess if I had to compare myself to someone it would be Jeff Buckley. We have the same birthday and both use our voices in a similar kind of way I think. I’ve never quite pulled off long hair as well as him though. Maybe that’s something to work on…?

If you could play with anyone, who would it be?

It would have to be Conor. He’s been too important to me as a musician and human being to not choose him. Having said that, singing with Kevin Barnes of of Montreal would be a damn fine thing to do upon an evening sometime.

If you could play at any festival, which would it be?

I spent my gap year in the USA. My mum is from Tennessee and so I am technically a citizen. While I was there I went to a huge festival in the south called Bonnaroo. It was possibly the best weekend of my life. I knew an actor who was performing there, opening for Daniel Tosh’s comedy. His show was on the first day of the festival, after which they were leaving to continue their tour.

My friend gave me his artist wristband before he left, which meant I had an all access pass to every stage and lounge across the festival. He also introduced me to his close friend who plays McLovin in the movie Superbad. Hanging out with those guys for the rest of the weekend and watching Paul McCartney from the very front of the main stage made it an unforgettable weekend, and I’d love to go back there to play. Such a special place. There are also a lot of great things happening within the UK festival scene. I don’t really care for Reading or Glastonbury as the experience is never particularly personal I find. However, festivals like Wilderness and End of the Road are truly magical. I would love to play at one of those sometime soon.

Who are your fans?

Perhaps it’s because of the poetic nature of my writing, which I think makes it appealing to a sizeable demographic, but my fans seem to range in age, culture and background pretty considerably. A lot of them are American students as I have spent a lot of time there and have a ton of friends across the pond who have shared my music with other people they know. But, I’m becoming pretty well known within the Oxford music scene too.

The most bizarre set of fans I have, according to the stats from my Facebook page, is a pretty large following in Northern Africa and Morocco. It’s nice to see such inter-cultural sharing of music and art. Oh, and my mum. She is definitely a fan.

What’s your all time favourite song?

My favourite song is ‘First Day of My Life’ by Bright Eyes. I think it is the perfect song and its become part of my ritual of everyday life, in the sense that the song carries me forward and is constantly inspirational. I never do anything important without singing that song through in my head first. It calms me down and always provides me with the sort of fresh perspective that I think one needs to cherish to get the most out of every single day.