Chris Grant: Making Room at the Top of a Music Industry In Flux

'I'd worked for 10 to 15 years to hone my writing before I stumbled across Alan McGee,' he says of his recent signing to 359 Music. 'Alan told me I was good, so I worked harder to get better.'

Dock walls hold off the black river that tongues roughly at the city's flank and Liverpool lies humpbacked beneath a tumbling sky. Chris Grant lowers the brim of his hat and looks out across the Mersey, taking in the outline of Birkenhead, deaf to the scream of gulls, his mind elsewhere.

'I'd worked for 10 to 15 years to hone my writing before I stumbled across Alan McGee,' he says of his recent signing to 359 Music. 'Alan told me I was good, so I worked harder to get better.'

Chris Grant has a believer in Alan McGee, which is all any songwriter can ask for: someone who shares the artist's vision, a mentor. And Grant, like McGee, is a straight talker. For him it's all about the music.

The 31-year-old Liverpudlian realised he had an audience, and a global one at that, when the songs he put up on Myspace generated 3,000 hits per week, a fact not lost on McGee who was quick to back him.

The 359 label is busy nurturing grass roots talent, each signing 'a character' as Grant puts it, who ply their trade in parallel to the mainstream.

'The major labels have a blockbuster strategy,' says Grant. 'They take three or four people and focus all their energy on them. It's them attempting to make back money, money that they're losing all over the world by trying to squeeze what they can from a handful of artists. The strategy doesn't seem to be about music. And the music they're backing is awful.'

This is hard to disagree with given that we all find ourselves cursing the sinful din belched from our radios before hitting the off button.

'The last time a major label got into bed with someone who was cool and who the public liked was when Sony went with Alan McGee and Oasis in the 1990s. Oasis was the people's band, but these days all the middle class bands are getting the action, but they don't make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.'

Here's where it gets interesting: a shift has occurred within the country which has been mirrored by the music industry. One only has to read Owen Jones' treatise on the demonisation on the working class (Chavs, Verso Books) to grasp that the working class has been marginalised in favour of a politer and duller Brit. Consequently, working class artistic output rarely gets a look in.

'Major labels force feed the public from every possible angle,' he says. 'They have a stronghold on the industry, which means an artist like myself has to be prepared for the long haul.'

Later on, by the light of the fire in Ye Hole In Ye Wall, an ale house crouching in the long shadow of the Liver Building, Grant rests easy and sups, his mood lightened despite being aware of what he's up against.

'I know I'm getting involved in a music business that is totally screwed,' he says. 'But the main thing about 359 Music is that it's putting out good music.' But can he define 'good'? 'I'm into pure songwriting and I don't think that's been done in a long time.'

Grant is irked by the waiting around, the long weeks and months that stretch between each single. Such are the constraints of a record deal.

'It's You was recorded live in my garage. It made the head of BBC Radio 2 cry and we had Janice Long on board, but its release coincided with releases from Paul McCartney, Sting, James Blunt and Elton John, so the timing was awful. But we knew this is what it would be like.'

Where other young singers - notable for their guitar-based songs and retro vocals - are content to have a team of writers do their job for them, Grant pens his own work with no small amount of aplomb.

'When I get up in the morning, I know it's my calling. There's always a melody in my head. I need to be creative to feel I've done something in the day.'

Had an attitude like this pervaded the UK, the comatose state in which the country now finds itself could have been sidestepped.

'Kids today need to disagree more,' says Grant, 'because they're passively agreeing to everything that's handed to them. In my generation, everyone was their own person, but now that attitude has gone out the window.

'Who was the last rebel?' he asks. 'Was it Liam or Noel? When Noel Gallagher said that, for a band to be the next Oasis they can't be anything like Oasis, he was absolutely right. What Oasis did was say you can be a bit of a scally from a council estate and penetrate the music world.'

Partnered with Cherry Red Records, 359 is playing it cool, the task it has undertaken a monumental one. 'All 359 artists are real,' says Grant, 'and they believe in what they're doing.'

He already has enough material for his next three albums, and calls the self-produced It's Not About War! 'a timeless album'.

'I play soul music. Honest music. I'm trying to get people to feel what's in their hearts. My voice is the main instrument on this record, not the guitar, and with it I'm having a good moan at the world, but in a melodic way. And with humour,' he says, laughing and replacing his hat.

'I'm going to take a few lefts and a few rights and I'm going to jump a few walls, and I won't do what people expect of me because I'm in the middle of a mission, a crazy journey with mad ups and downs. But I like it. Because I'm in control of my own fate.'

Listen to It's Youhere

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Photo 1 by JAH; photo 2 courtesy of the Liverpool Echo

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