Think Country’s Kate caught up with Country Fan turned Country Singer, TV’s very own Shane Richie
KW: How did you enjoy Drake?
SR: Love Drake wanted to see him since I heard the album Spark. Funnily enough when I heard it I tweeted about it and Drake replied. I thought I have got to get an opportunity to see him live. I remember asking the record company that there is a guy called Drake White they did not know who I was talking about. I said that I’d like to go and see him at The Borderline. Mark Hagen, who works at radio2, invited me to go and see Kip Moore but I was working that day I was in the studio.
KW: I saw him in Zurich with Darius and then at C2C about five times. This was the first C2C you have missed, isn’t it?
I love watching people passionate about what they do and he has a real big passion for song writing, it’s just in him.
KW: Kat kindly sent me over four tracks this morning to listen to.
SR: what did you think?
KW: They were good, I did not hear any of the original songs. I heard your version of Pat Greens ‘Wave on Wave’, Jon Pardi’s ‘Heartache on the Dancefloor’, ‘On and On’ Stephen Bishop and Heartland ‘I loved her first’. Your voice is quite different on the songs. On one of the songs I wondered if it was someone else, maybe your son, but then I realised it was you.
SR: That’s interesting that why we kind of put it in the title ‘A Country Soul’ because I love soul music as well. I wanted to try something different with these songs. Stephen Bishop’s is west coast writer. He’s written for television and movies. But as a songwriter I’ve loved him. I wanted to take the lyrics and put them out there. You know I’m still a believer that some of the great country songs, you’ve got to listen to the great Keith Urban album Ripcord, which I love is really pop songs with a steel guitar. You’ve got people like Pitball and Nile Rodgers rapping on it. So the parameters are moving as far new country goes and that is kind of where my head is.
KW: I read the Guardian interview with you and thought it was a bit odd.
SR: Which one?
KW: The one that mentions Nandos etc. I’m guessing you knew the guy?
SR: oh yes, that was a phone interview set up by the record company. He was obviously not into it. It was a bit tongue in cheek. He asked me what I thought about Jason (Manford) and Nick (Nick Knowles), these guys are mates of mine The problem is that when you do interview like that you cannot see the ‘tongue in cheek’ you can’t see the laughs and when you cut out the ‘my mate Jason Manford’ and cut the word ‘my mate’ out you just see it stark and you say ‘no, that’s not how it was meant’. I had hoped they come back to me with ‘you’re a two bit actor from Eastenders’ I thought that we would have had a war of words which would have been fun but of course they didn’t and were a bit hurt by it and that wasn’t my intention.
KW: Why did you chose the tracks that you did? Some of them aren’t country, at least three of them in my opinion.
SR: Which ones?
KW: Obviously, Nik Kershaw
SR: Ah well you’ve not heard it. Wait until you hear it. When you hear it, imagine Darius and The Pogues get together. I’ve got Bobby Valentino playing on it, he played for The Bluebells (Young at heart) he is playing the fiddle on it and we’ve got a steel guitar on it. I’ve known Nik for years and as a songwriter he is phenomenal. Let me take that song, and because I have to remember my audience as well would have bought that stuff back in the day. Here is a track that when turn to the back of the cd you will recognise the title. When you hear it , it is very different from the original, very different.
KW: What of the current country artists do you like? I know you’ve mentioned Keith Urban and I know that you are great friends with Darius.
SR: Midland, I’m really liking them.
KW: They are my favourite.
SR: Really? I’d love to see them live.
KW: They’re at C2C next year.
SR: I know, I’m trying to get on the show! Never mind them! Ha Ha!
SR: They are so cool. I have ‘Drinkin problem’ on a loop in my house. I love Old Dominion as well.
KW: They’re over next month supporting Thomas Rhett in Camden.
SR: I have to see all these acts. Are they supporting Thomas? If you’re there I’ll see you there. I also love Florida Georgia Line, but they don’t get played. The thing is, if people like my album and they ask me in interviews what inspires me and why I like ‘new’ country I tell them to go and listen to Midland, Old Dominion etc., go and listen to these guys. When I was at the Drake gig some woman came up to me and said “its people like you that are going to kill country music in the UK”. I understand because if I wanted to jump on a bandwagon I would have done songs from shows, I would have done the old crooning stuff. But it’s not what I do with my band. I’ve had a band for years and I’ve always done stuff that is foot stomping not always ‘new country’ stuff because when you’re playing a corporate gig they may want to hear something they recognise. But occasionally I can slip in the odd country tune. If people want to frown upon what I’m doing,’ it’s people like you…’ its fine I get it. But listen to my album first. I love Sam Hunt and Chris Stapleton and Dave Sutherland. Do you know Dave Sutherland he is an English singer and songwriter? I like Trent Harmon, Chris Young, Adam Doleak, Jake Owen and Brett Eldredge.
KW: I think now, and it is quite reflected in your album, that the country music has been more ‘bro country’ like Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Jason Aldean over the last few years now it’s being pushed out by the ‘pop’ country and also the retro more traditional sounding and bluesy style of country music. If you like Chris Stapleton you’ll like Kendell Marvel.
KW: have you ever been to Nashville?
SR: I’ve been through it whilst doing a documentary for Children in Need. I really want to go back and spend some time there. I’ve been to Memphis and sung in one of the bars. Darius keeps threatening to get me there.
KW: You put a nod to him on your album by covering Wagon Wheel. You couldn’t not put that in could you?
SR: Ah, when I was doing it I was wanting to change it up a bit so I was giving it more of a pub feel.
KW: I really like the song the melody is quite uplifting but the subject matter not so much. I’m guilty as much as anyone of singing happily to a song without thinking too much about the words. Some of the songs e.g. Midlands are easy to pick up and it’s not until you sit and listen and don’t sing along that you realise that it’s actually a really sad song.
KW: Are you hoping to perform your album?
SR: Now, I’m concentrating on promoting the album but if it’s a success then yes, I’d love to do some live shows. I play with my band a lot. Ideally, I’d like to support one of the country bands that come over here in UK and Europe.
KW: You have Katy Hurt’s band playing with you don’t you?
SR: Yes, at the moment they touring with Sonia Leigh.
KW: You should come and do a gig at Nashville Nights, have you heard if that?
SR: You know I have heard of that and there’s one coming up soon at Chelsea Under The Bridge isn’t it?
KW: Yes, its always there almost every month to six weeks and they always have a UK country singer or band before the D.J.
SR: Put my name in the hat. I’d love to do it in January.
KW: I’ll pass on your details to them. What inspires you?
SR: To write? I’m at an age where I can look back and reflect. One of the tracks on the album is called 22 Gardens which is an original. When I was on tour (I always take my guitar and ask for a piano in my rider if they can do it) someone came to my stage door and said that a friend of one of the actors had bumped into/got in touch through Facebook with one of their first loves and had gone out for dinner they were talking about how this women was constantly part of his life. When I was growing up, funnily enough I’ve just done a documentary on the One Show about it, there was this girl that I liked when I was 9,10 or 11. She lived around the block but to get to her house I had to go over twenty two gardens. This guy telling me his story of how he met his childhood sweetheart made me think about the first girl that I loved) or you think you love at age 11) and what would it be like? That’s what got me writing and that’s one of the tracks that I am really proud of it’s about looking back on your life. Then you bump in to this person and you realise that you are both in the same predicament.
KW: It’s a great title. I thought that you were going to say that’s where I used to live.
SR: One of the lyrics is ‘five kids between us, grown up they don’t need us’ it’s a really heartfelt lyric.
KW: If I was to look on your iPod, MP3 player what would be the top 5 tracks?
SR: I was fortunate to be given Dairus’s new album some weeks ago. I am paying it to death at the moment. That bloke can do no wrong for me.
KW: How did you meet Darius?
SR: Well, I met him back in 1996 I was doing Grease in Manchester.
KW: I saw you in that in Crawley.
SR: Bless you darling..ha ha.. no, you saw me in Boogie Nights.
KW: Oh, that’s right! I did.
SR: I was doing a stand up tour on the West Coast, Portland Oregon to L.A. I’d go and see live bands. At the time, they were playing this college band called Hootie and The Blowfish. It became the sound track to my American tour. I then had a man crush. I remember him saying he was the only black man in a white band. They were like a college rock band. He’d always talk about George Strait, Marty Stuart, these singers that he loved as a kid. I remember as a kid growing up in clubs hearing these guys because Irish bands would always cover these kind of singers and then I listened to ‘Cracked rear view mirror’ its college rock but you can hear country in the song writing and the guitar changes, playing a third down with the harmonies etc. That really is old country so I knew Darius was a fan. When he brought out his solo stuff he said he was an EastEnders fan. I was going over to see him a few years ago I asked if I could go back stage. He put out a note that he wanted to meet ‘Alfie Moon’. I thought really? He’s pulling my leg. But it was him and his wife and they loved Eastenders. I do know he genuinely loves England and so every time he has been over we have been in touch. I was supposed to see him this year at C2C but I couldn’t as I was in Southampton working. I’m hoping he will fly the flag for the album in the States.
I love his song “It won’t be like this for long’, about being a father, its lyrically perfect. His album is lyrically great and the chord changes, he makes it look so easy. Country music gives you a platform to write about your life and country songs are about the lyrics and the story telling and that’s what I like about it. Especially ‘This Bottle ain’t your friend’ I’m sending that to Darius to see what he thinks about it.
Read more about Shane
“Oh mate!” hollers the country fan in the leather jacket, radiating enthusiasm and bouncy bonhomie, “have you listened to Drake White? He’s playing the Borderline in Soho soon. Listen to Keith Urban! He’s got Nile Rogers and Pitbull on his album! Man, wait till you hear this great track by Midland called Drinkin’ Problem – now that’s an honest account of boozing…”
Shane Richie knows where he’s at. He’s aware that, for a goodly chunk of the population, he’s a soap star. “They look at a picture of me and they say: ‘Yeah, that’s Alfie-from-EastEnders.’ I’m totally fine with that. When 16 million people watch you on telly it’s inevitable!” he laughs. And he knows he’s good at his “day job”, as we might call it. “I’m an entertainer. I was happy with that term long before Robbie Williams made it cool,” the actor/musical theatre performer notes cheerfully.
Equally, though, Richie knows where his heart’s at. “I trained as an actor but I’ve always been in bands. My dad used to run Irish clubs in London, so I know that world. I sung with bands when I worked in holiday camps, I sang in the West End, I played guitar and sang in my hotel room whenever I was touring the UK with plays.”
More than that, this lifelong Paul Weller obsessive knows where his core musical passions lie. “I’ve been a big fan of country for a long time. I appreciate your Johnny Cashes and your Willie Nelsons. But it’s the new scene I like. Guys like Jon Pardi and his tune Heartache On The Dance Floor, or Pat Green’s Wave On Wave. I was a huge fan of Hootie & The Blowfish, so much so I made a point of becoming mates with Darius Rucker – and his solo country stuff!” he rhapsodises with the spottery enthusiasm of the true fan. “The beauty of the new country music is the simplicity. Those songs, and those stores – man, they get me.”
And he gets them. On ‘A Country Soul’, his first album for East/West, Shane Richie does what he’s been waiting his whole life to do: make a record that’s true to him and true to his passions. The album is a collection of interpretations of this singer/guitarist/keyboard player’s favourite country, and country-ish, tunes, topped off with a handful of originals.
“New country fans will know Wave On Wave and Heartache On The Dance Floor. And hopefully they’ll know I Loved Her First by Heartland. Lyrically, it’s all about giving your daughter away on her wedding day. Mate, I struggled to sing that! In the studio I was in pieces after an hour. But I wanted to own it for my daughters.
“We’ve also done a great version of On And On by Stephen Bishop,” he says of the revered songwriter best known for Separate Lives, turned into a deathless Eighties hit by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin. “The original has a real West coast vibe but we just lifted that away and gave it more of a Nashville feel – ours has a gospel choir and steel guitar.
“I appreciate my audience want songs they recognise,” he adds. “But I’d much rather do stuff like that than Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. I think I could have done something interesting with that, and other country standards like it – anyone for Coward of the County?! – but my heart wouldn’t have been it.”
Indeed, Shane Richie has had some bruising experience of going the clangingly obvious route. His first album, released in 1997, gloried under the title of: The Album.
“I knew we were doomed from the start,” cracks this time-served stand-up comic. “But I wrote a couple of originals and got to record in a studio that Weller had used. So it wasn’t all bad. Then when it came to release, the Spice Girls split up – so I couldn’t even get the bloody thing racked in Woolies.”
Fast-forward to 2003.
“Simon Cowell came to me and said: ‘Shane, let’s do an album.’ So I sat with someone at his label, and they were keen. I didn’t have much time – my autobiography was coming out and we were about to film the big Kat and Alfie wedding storyline on ’Enders. Then Simon said: ‘Great idea – you can do Doo Wah Diddy – you singing to Kat: there she was just a-walking down the street…’”
Richie pulls a face at the memory.
“Then he said: ‘How about Pretty Woman? You can sing that to Kat!’”
Another pulled face, followed by an off-the-cuff suggestion: “I could do Wham!’s I’m Your Man…
“And within 48 hours we’d recorded the song and shot the video. It was in aid of Children In Need and reached Number Two in the chart. But then the idea of an album was scuppered because of my EastEnders contract. So that was that.”
By 2005 Richie was out of the show, but by then he felt the moment was gone. So he scratched his musical itches elsewhere: put together a new band, gigged whenever he could with mates for laughs, did two series of Saturday night singing quiz show Don’t Forget The Lyrics! for Sky, and worked with songwriter legendary Leslie Bricusse on the musical Scrooge.
Then came Children In Need 2016. Richie is a long-standing annual fixture on the fund-raising epic. In the midst of the chaos of a live telethon, the producers always knew they could rely on “Alfie-from-EastEnders” for a musical turn. In a line-up of game-for-a laugh celebs for whom singing wasn’t their, shall we say, comfort zone, Richie was a safe pair of lungs.
So, last year, he and his old mucker Tony Hadley duetted on a cover of Hall & Oates’ Do It For Love. Following the broadcast, a music industry exec got in touch. Did Richie fancy doing an album?
“Sorry, mate, I’ve been there, twice. And I know what you’re gonna want me to do: songs from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, bit of Greased Lightnin’, then some Fly Me To The Moon. And maybe a duet with ‘Kat’ on I Got You Babe.”
But to his pleasant surprise, he was offered carte blanche to make the album he wanted to make. Cue a country music passion project, and unwavering support from his new record label home.
He hooked up with producer Nick Southwood, a country fan “with the Nashville feel” based in Muswell Hill, north London. The two were already working together on another project – after a two-year courtship, Richie recently secured the theatrical rights to The Small World of Sammy Lee, a revered Sixties Britflick set in Soho that starred incomparable actor/writer/singer Anthony Newley. (“What was the last TV he did? EastEnders. I missed him by a year. Gutted.”) Richie, who knows his Soho theatreland-and-nightlife onions, is writing a musical based on the film.
“With this album, I needed honesty, some tough love – ‘Shane you’re flat there… that lyric doesn’t work’ – and someone I could trust. Someone who would tell not what I wanted to hear but what I needed to hear. Nick is the man to do that.
Other deep country cuts that made the grade include Bob Dylan co-write Wagon Wheel, previously covered by Richie’s old pal Darius Rucker (ex Hootie and the Blowfish), “which is a tip of the hat to grassroots country.” There’s also What Hurts The Most, as popularised by Rascal Flatts, “who I’ve loved for a long time. They’re managed by Scooter Braun, who looks after Justin Bieber and my son’s band,” he says of Rixton, fronted by his eldest Jake Roche.
“In fact, Jake’s written one of the new tracks with me – Shut Up (’Cause All I Want Is You). How that came about was,” begins this irrepressible storyteller, “it was my wedding anniversary and we were going to Spain to celebrate. Jake was going to look after the house. And he said: ‘Hey dad, the boys are gonna come round the house, we’re gonna mix our new album in your kitchen.
“And I was like: ‘Yeah, sure, on you go… But how about a song for my album?’ ‘OK, what do you want to sing about?’ So I said to Jake I wanted something about midlife crisis, but a positive one. The lyrics are: the kids are at their friends’ house, it’s just me and you now, shut up all I want is you… But there is the crisis element ’cause my [second] wife’s much younger than me and how can she still be in love with me?” he says with typically disarming honesty.
That Bottle Ain’t Your Friend is another original. “Nick brought the start of it to me; it’s a song about alcoholism. I lost my first wife through my drinking – I kinda lost the plot – which is well documented,” he shrugs. “So Nick and I finished it together.”
And there’s more: a take on Nik Kershaw’s I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. “Nik sang at my wedding,” he explains, “but we’ve taken out the Eighties guitar, put some violin in there, given it a real Pogues feel, which it goes back to my Irish roots. The Irish in me also means we’ve got a fair few big foot stomping moments on the album.”
“I know my audience,” Richie concludes. “They’ll remember Nik’s original, they’ll have mourned when George Michael died. And they’re gonna buy my records in the supermarket. They’re not gonna download. They won’t be going, ‘oh yeah, better get on my Spotify and stream the new tune from Shane!’” Like he said, he knows where he’s at.
“I’ve been invited to the Q Awards in a few weeks,” continues Mr. Raconteur. “It’ll be great if I bump into Liam Gallagher – who l love – and he’ll be like, ‘what the fook are you doing here?’ I’ll be like, ‘I know, I’m in panto in a few weeks, I should be rehearsing – but if you want to bring the kids, you’re good for tickets. That’s what label-mates do for each other, right?’” he hoots.
“But to be honest,” super-fan Shane Richie concludes, “I’m glad to be anywhere I can talk about this music, these artists and these songs. What I love about new country is that they all write from the heart. They write stories. That’s kinda where my head was, with the songs we wrote and the songs I was covering.”
“So, yeah, this is from the heart – and the heartland of new country.”