Richi Jones, singer-songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about hanging up his football boots, getting Kenny G’s personal email address, winning the Open Mic UK Competition and the release of his latest EP Into The Fire.
Richi Jones is an English singer-songwriter, who plays both the saxophone and guitar. His is currently studying Music at Birmingham City University, and supplements his income by giving guitar lessons.
At aged 13, he received over 2 million hits on YouTube when he was recorded playing Baker Street on the saxophone. Between the ages of 16 and 18 he was a professional footballer, being goalkeeper for both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Walsall Football Club.
Giving up football to pursue a musical career, he entered the Open Mic UK Competition and won. With the proceeds of the win he was able to finance the release of his first EP, Into The Fire.
Whilst busy studying, rehearsing and planning the release of his follow up EP, he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Richi how are you today?
I’m good thanks Kevin how are you?
I’m very well thank you.
That’s good man, good.
Let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
No problem, it’s a pleasure.
And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
Today is alright. I have given a couple of guitar lessons already today so all is good. I am doing well man and I am just enjoying my music. I am playing a few local gigs so that is keeping me busy (laughter).
Tell me a little bit about Richi Jones?
Right then Kevin where do I start (laughter). I am twenty years old and currently studying music at the Birmingham City University. Thinking about the long-term I am intending to relocate to London in September.
What is the rationale behind moving to London?
I think that there is a good music scene down there in London. I am not going down there thinking that I will make it as soon as I get there. I am going to London so that I can continue to do what I am doing in Birmingham but on a bigger scale. I hope to be playing all the time and busking all of the time once I get settled in London. I am confident that eventually things will start to happen but I am not going to go out looking for things to happen. I intend to stay relaxed and enjoy doing it. As long as I can afford to live down there I will simply keep going. I might have to ask mum and dad for a little bit of help every now and again but…(laughter).
And judging from your accent I would hazard a guess that you are from the Midlands?
(Laughter) that’s right I live just outside Wolverhampton.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes I have an older brother who is twenty-two.
Is he in the music business too?
(Laughter) let’s just say Kevin that he dabbles on the guitar. The two of us couldn’t be more opposite really as he is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. To be fair he is very good and he has just got sponsorship to help with his training, which he does eight times per week. He studies Jujitsu, kickboxing and wrestling and I have to say that he really is very, very good. We couldn’t be further apart, there he is doing all of this fighting and here I am just a peaceful musician; peace man (laughter).
So I take it that you have to stay on his good side?
To be honest we are in fact quite close and we go all over the place together. In fact we have recently got back from a holiday together over in Dublin. Generally we get on really well and we get ourselves over to Ibiza every year. However if we do ever manage to get into a row I always tend to be the one who runs off (laughter).
On the subject of the Midlands I see that you have played The Robin 2 in Bilston a few times now. How was that?
That’s right I love playing at The Robin. I have only ever supported people there. At the moment I have supported about four people there at The Robin. The first time I was really young, I would have been about thirteen, and I was doing a solo saxophone gig and there were over five hundred people in there. It was absolutely amazing.
And speaking of the saxophone, just how did you get started in music?
My interest in music started when I was ten years old and after watching an American film on the TV I wanted to start playing the saxophone. After I had been playing the saxophone for about six years I started playing the guitar. And that is where we are at this moment in time.
And didn’t you win the Open Mic UK competition?
Yes I did (laughter). I hope that this doesn’t sound too mercenary but I entered the Open Mic UK competition purely and simply to see if I could win it because the prize money would help me to do what it was that I wanted to do, that was to play the guitar and to enable me to record my own EP. And I have to say that all is going well since then really.
So winning the completion enabled you to record and release your EP Into The Fire. Were you pleased with how well it was received?
So far I have had some really good feedback from the EP which is really great as it is the first time that I have ever recorded anything apart from very early saxophone stuff, so I was intrigued to see what people actually thought of it. So as I say, since the release of the EP things have been really good and I am truly happy with just how well it has been received.
You mention Into The Fire and I have to say that I have been playing it everywhere, in the house, the car, the iPod and I really do think that it’s a great piece of work.
Oh cheers man, thank you. I spent a long time working on that tune and I think that out of all of the tunes that I have written, Into The Fire is the most simple but it is the arrangement that makes it stand out above the rest. I had literally been wracking my brains for eighteen months trying to get the arrangement right. So I am really happy with the way that came out.
And exactly where was the video for Into The Fire shot because it really does look cold and rather windy (laughter).
(Laughter) we went off to Winterton Beach in Norfolk and to be fair I found it really easy bearing in mind that this was the first proper video that I had ever made. And yes you are right it was bloody freezing, it was terrible (laughter).
Tell me how you managed to get the video shot?
(Laughter) who has been talking to you Kevin? Okay here goes; I got to know the girlfriend of the producer really well after I met her whilst she was doing a bit of filming for his website whilst I was doing some recording and stuff. She actually lives in Paris and I already knew that she was pretty good with a camera so I paid for her flight over. So me, her and one camera headed off to Winterton Beach and we managed to shoot the video in just under four hours. It was really simple with no hi-tech stuff, just me and her with the one small camera.
That is usually the case, the simpler it is then the better it is.
I didn’t particularly plan on it being complicated. Being a student then obviously the budget was quite tight as well. I decided to keep it low key and yes, for that particular tune I thought that simpler definitely made it better. It was very cool and we actually saw and recorded a sea lion (laughter). I was sitting on the top of the bank and shouted ‘oh my god there’s a sea lion’ so she sprinted down and got some video of it and yes, everything was cool man.
Didn’t you almost destroy your amplifier on the beach?
(Laughter) that’s right. I took my busking gear with me which consists of a car battery and my amp. As I knew that I would be miming I took my busking gear down to the beach with me so that I would be able to hear the track and do the whole thing properly. When I got home after a few hours on the beach I literally had to dismantle my amp and rinse all of the sand out of it. Almost a pint of sand came out of the back of the amp, it was crazy (laughter).
You have received over two million hits on YouTube. That must have made you feel good?
Yes it did but that was the saxophone stuff from a long time ago now. However I am thankful for it as it has given me a following and those people are now also interested in the alternative path that I have chosen. It has got the people intrigued because the videos are of a thirteen year old me playing the saxophone. That is what is so surprising about it. I was doing lots of session work on the saxophone and was being paid good money which at that time was unheard of, and I think that is why it went so viral.
Whilst it is great the only awkward thing is that people don’t recognise me now because back then I looked like a baby with a terrible haircut whereas now I am all bearded up (laughter). It is great because I am constantly getting people messaging me saying ‘this is you isn’t it’ and when I say yes it then opens the door for them to see what I am doing now and it is quite cool for them to be able to see that crossover path that I have now taken.
Obviously I won’t ask you the question now but I have written down what have you done with the spikey haired fresh faced kid that I have just watched playing Baker Street on the saxophone?
(Hysterical laughter) I think the answer to that is that I finally reached puberty (laughter).
What did you learn from supporting Tony Hadley?
It was a gig which we did a while ago now and it was really weird as my dad came along with me and he is an electrician. Whilst we were standing backstage my dad got chatting to Tony who at that time was having some electrical work done to his house and my dad was seeing if he could get a job (laughter). It was great as Tony is a bit of a legend isn’t he. I remember seeing him in the jungle and the gig was just after he came home so it was all really surreal.
Did you know who he was before you played with him?
To be honest no I didn’t. Obviously I knew who Spandau Ballet were but it was only when I told my mum who I was going to be playing with she told me that Tony was the singer in Spandau Ballet. I was a bit oblivious to it all and it was my mum who was going nuts about it (laughter). Obviously I know who he is now.
Funnily enough I have spoken to Tony this morning and one of the things that I asked him was why did he go into the jungle and he told me it was for that very reason, so that younger kids would know who he was.
Really, that’s cool. All that I can say Kevin is that he was great. I remember him performing True to a backing track and when it came to the saxophone solo I just rocked up and played it which was really cool after my set.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
I would like to see myself settled in London and be regularly playing to audiences of about one hundred and fifty people. I know that people will say that’s not a large crowd but I do that in Birmingham. I would just love it to be on a more regular basis. I play music because I love to play music and I currently like what I am doing. I am twenty years old and I feel like I have finally found the sound that I have been looking for. I feel like I have become a lot better on the guitar and I have been asked to support some really good fingerstyle guitar players. To get a support slot with someone who plays fingerstyle is a really big deal for me. It is my aim to be as good as Tommy Emmanuel and those sort of people on the guitar. I’m not quite as good as them but I am a good warmup for someone who likes to come and see that style of playing, if that makes sense.
At the moment I want to get good at a whole bunch of instruments and then maybe in five or ten years’ time I would like to be writing songs that do get out there and are listened to by a huge number of people. I am in this business because I love writing and playing music. I would love to be at the point where I could be doing those size of gigs but more regularly. I am a firm believer that you do not need to have millions of followers on Facebook. I think that if you have got three thousand people who are real fans then I feel that you can make a really good living. If I looked at my dream career then that would have to be Newton Faulkner because he is not going to walk around and be known by everybody. But on the other hand anyone who knows anything about playing the guitar knows his name. That’s the way that I want to be, simply respected by people and not be mobbed by screaming girls every time that I leave the house (laughter).
And just how would you describe a real fan?
I listen to a lot of music but I would say that there are only six artists or bands who I would call myself a real fan of, who if they were playing within an hour and a half of where I lived I would watch them every time that they came. That’s what I mean by a real fan. Wherever you play you have got the real fans who will come out to watch you.
Who has inspired you musically?
Vocally I would say that the main two people who have influenced me are Matt Corby the Australian singer and Ray Lamontagne who is an American singer-songwriter. And then instrumentally it would be people such as Matt Corby again, Ben Howard and Newton Faulkner. As you can see I am not massively influenced by the pop scene; it is more the people who musicians appreciate, if that makes sense. It is the more undercover people that musicians really do seem to appreciate.
So do you already have any ideas or thoughts regarding recording your next project?
Recording is a real learning curve and I look at my EP and think that it is a great platform for me to work from. However I already know that my next EP will be completely different from Into The Fire simply because I know that my next recording will be far less pop. I just know where I want to go with my music. I know that in a couple of years’ time my music will be completely different from what it is today because it is all about discovering what you want to do. What I am sure about is that the next record will have quite a bit of Jazz Fusion on it. Don’t get me wrong it will still be a bit Indie, a little poppy and a little bit folky but there will definitely be a lot more of a Jazz influence to it.
Which single event would you say has changed your life forever?
That’s a really hard question. Ok here we go and this is actually quite a good one (laughter). It is kind of to do with music but then again it’s not, but see what you think and I’m sure you will understand what I mean by that. Up until a couple of years ago I was a full time football player having been involved with professional football clubs since I was eight years old. Between me being sixteen and eighteen years old I was playing professionally for Walsall Football Club. I was a goalkeeper and so I really could have gone anywhere, and I found myself being the golden boy at Wolverhampton Wanderers. However problems started when I stopped growing; I’m five feet eleven inches and I am not going to get any taller now.
At fifteen Wolves were going to offer me a full-time professional contract and sent me to the hospital in Birmingham where I had a full body scan of my joints because apparently once you stop growing certain joints in your body fuse. The scan gives the club a clear indication of just how much more growing you are going to do. Anyway the results came back and it was clear that I was never going to make six feet in height. So immediately Wolves let me go and that was when I decided to play for Walsall. However after a while the same questions began to be asked and I can remember playing in a particular game where I was stood in the goal and it was absolutely pissing it down with rain. At that time I had begun to get more enjoyment out of my music and at that very moment I decided that I was never going to play football ever again.
Since that moment in time I have dedicated myself one hundred percent to my music and I am far more less stressed than I was playing football. I am in a really good place now and it is all down to that one decision; to stop playing football and to simply concentrate on my music. Don’t get me wrong, unfortunately I am probably the best at the two things which are possibly the hardest two things in the world to make a living out of, music and football which is a bit annoying (laughter). However, when I was playing football I wasn’t sleeping at night, whereas with music even when it is stressful it is still so much more enjoyable. So in answer to your question Kevin I think that the one thing which changed my life forever was making the decision to hang up my boots forever and to concentrate on music instead of sport.
Playing devil’s advocate for a minute, if you had chosen to take the other path and had become a fulltime professional football player, once that career had ended do you think that you would have then tried to resurrect you musical career?
Don’t get me wrong I would never have let it go completely. Even when I was playing football whenever I came home my release was playing music. In fact I was still playing gigs throughout the whole time. I can always remember a couple of things that happened when I was at Wolves. Firstly I was offered the chance to play a gig in Sweden for stupid money for a very rich bloke and then secondly a big time millionaire asked me if I could play at his wedding in Las Vegas which would have been absolutely amazing, but the football club wouldn’t let me do either of them. So by concentrating on my football I really did miss out on a lot of really cool stuff.
I was always doing music throughout my time spent in football and it was pretty annoying looking back on the type of life experiences that I had to miss simply because I was legally singed to a professional football club at the time. It’s a pretty weird story as not many people have that crossover path from football to music but I am really pleased that I chose music and didn’t continue trying to pursue a career in football, which to me seemed pretty pointless.
Who were you listening to while you were growing up?
My parents, grandparents, brother and me all live together in a large house in the middle of nowhere so if I’m honest, I was bought up by my grandparents. My mum and dad have always worked full time so I have spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My granddad was always very much into the Rat Pack whilst my gran was into light-hearted country rock kind of stuff like The Eagles and people like that. So I was bought up on that sort of music really. Also I got into the Folk scene around two years ago now. So I would have to say that I was bought up on Jazz, Jazz Fusion, County Rock and old school Folk music. I know that it sounds odd but I personally think that Jazz is the best music genre to be knowledgeable in, simply because it allows you to be so diverse.
Tell me about your response to the question ‘tell us why you love music’ on your application to the University of London?
(Laughter) bloody hell Kevin, who told you about that. Well when I was applying for a place at the University of London my response to the question was ‘the reason I love music is because there are no boundaries to music. Nobody can tell you that something is right and on the other hand nobody can tell you that something is wrong. And no matter how good you are at your chosen instrument you can always be better’. I honestly feel that even if you are ninety years old and you have been playing for eighty tears, you can still be better. My dad is an electrician and don’t get me wrong I respect what he does for a living but you can only be so good as an electrician; there is only one way to wire a plug for example. But the reason why I feel that music is so cool is the fact that no matter how long you have been playing and no matter how often you practice, you can still get better and better.
Right testing your memory now, what was the first record that you bought?
This is actually terrible because I do remember what it was (laughter). Please don’t hold it against me but I have to admit that it was Year 3000 by Busted (laughter). I was only seven years old and at that time I honestly thought that it was as far as you could go with Pop Rock (laughter).
Moving on swiftly, who did you first see playing live in concert?
(Laughter) I was six years old and my mum bless her took me to see S Club 7. But then when I began to get my own mind about what I liked in music the first standout wow gig that I went to was to see Kenny G at The Symphony Hall in Birmingham. Since then I have been to literally hundreds of gigs and I have seen some fantastic people but if I had to name my top three gigs they would be Matt Corby who I went to see a couple of weeks ago now and I have to say that it was totally amazing. I was also lucky enough to see Newton Faulkner who I truly believe is awesome. And then obviously Kenny G simply because of the fuss that he made of me when I went to see him in concert in Birmingham.
I recently shot Newton Faulkner here in Nottingham at Rock City and the noise that they make as a three piece is unbelievable.
He is coming to my University in June to do a Q&A which is absolutely amazing. I have been waiting to find the perfect person to sign my Martin guitar and he is literally the man. I just can’t wait to get him to sign it for me. There are so many questions that I want to ask him especially in terms of what he is using when it comes to pickups. I am really interested to see just how he gets his sound.
Tell me a little more about your relationship with Kenny G?
I was twelve years old and I went to the concert with my family. He made such a fuss of me because I was by far the youngest person there in the crowd. I managed to have a chat with him before he went on stage because he was just in the booth area. He is nothing at all like a diva and he always makes time for people. The funny thing was that he was talking to me while he was on stage in front of a full Symphony Hall (laughter). I went over to him after the show and he sat me down and said to me ‘don’t show anybody this’ and he gave me a piece of paper. He said ‘if you ever need anything just email me’ and he had written down on the piece of paper his personal email address. At twelve years old I just couldn’t believe what he had done and just how approachable and friendly he was.
Well I have to tell you that you had me hooked as soon as I watched you on YouTube playing one of my favourite songs Baker Street on my favourite instrument the saxophone.
That’s cool Kevin you obviously have great taste when it comes to music which is good. The last two gigs that you have been to I have to say that I would have done the same. I pride myself in my musical tastes and listening to you I think that you have got a great taste in music.
Thank you that’s nice of you to say. I have been collecting vinyl now for many more years than I care to remember from all over the world but I have to say that Soul and Motown are my big passion.
That’s cool man. I have recently ordered a vinyl player but it’s not an old original one, I have gone for a new one. Listening to vinyl does make a huge difference. What I like about vinyl so much is that it loses the perfections of a CD, if that makes any sense at all.
Yes it does. I find vinyl to be much warmer than CD’s plus it’s the whole experience of listening to a vinyl album which I find appealing.
With a CD you know that you are going to get the same sound every time and that it is going to be perfect. A musician who I really love is a guy named Keaton Henson who is as Indie as you could possibly get. Whenever you see him he just looks as if he is stoned all of the time (laughter). And what I love about his recorded music which he puts out there on his albums, well they have got bum notes on them. In my opinion it is the bum notes that make it so cool. It is the imperfections in music that make the music so good. That is what I love about vinyl; you lose that perfection which makes it so much more interesting to listen to.
For me it’s the whole package, reading the sleeve notes, turning it over to listen to the B Side, handling the album, it’s a whole different experience to that of simply playing a CD.
(Laughter) here’s an interesting story for you. About four weeks ago I was playing a gig down in Bristol and there was a photographer at the gig and we got talking. I asked him what had got him into photography and he told me that he had gone in to a charity store and he saw a vinyl Beatles album that he fancied and he paid £2 for it. When he got it home he opened it and found that it had been signed by all four of The Beatles. So he sent it off to auction where it sold for £27,000. He told me that was the reason that he is now a photographer because he had the money to go out and buy the best gear. I thought that was so cool.
Shoes on or shoes off?
(Laughter) funny that you should mention that. Obviously Newton never wears shoes on stage and I never wear shoes around the house. I feel totally comfortable walking around the house in just my socks. When he heard about what I was thinking my brother said ‘you’re not going to start doing that are you’ and I simply said no because I think that if I was playing to around twelve people I would look a right dick playing without my shoes on (laughter). I recently supported a covers band in front of a crowd of around four hundred and I had a small carpet on the front of the stage and I actually played with no shoes on and it was lovely, it felt so comfortable (laughter).
So what next for Richi Jones?
I am currently writing for my second EP which I want to start working on pretty much straight away really. I spent a lot of time working on the first EP but I want this next one to be even more special. I have now got my own little man cave at home so I can take my time when it comes to producing the EP. I feel a lot more confident now as a producer. As well as the EP I am hoping to get out and do a small tour during the summer. I recently played at The Kitchen Garden in Birmingham in front of seventy people which was very pleasant so I am looking at doing something like that this summer and basically see what happens.
Also I am getting a few bookings to play a few festivals which should be good. Then I am off to Croatia with a few friends and I will probably be taking my saxophone with me because we are going to a House venue as they always have a saxophone player.
Richi on that note let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been great.
Thanks Kevin I have really enjoyed it. It’s been good. You take care and I hope to see you at a gig somewhere soon.