On Tour For A Cause: Nick B. Byrne Busking Cancer

5 Aug

Words by Rahsian Parris

Cancer Research UK is undoubtedly one of the biggest UK charities dedicated to raising money to fund valuable research into new and improved methods of fighting cancer. From fashion savvy charity shops that are more ‘cheap chic’ than brick-a-brack, to monthly donations from dedicated members of the public, Cancer Research UK are helping to save lives. However, musicians everywhere are jumping on board Cancer Research UK’s innovative Busking For Cancer incentive, where musicians can sign up to a Busking For Cancer Week and organise sponsored gigs to raise money for one of Britain’s best charities. Welsh singer songwriter Nick B Byrne came up with the fantastic idea of touring Starbucks coffee shops across the UK during one of the Busking Cancer Weeks this summer. Nick tells us about his new album and single, why Busking Cancer is great for the charity and the musicians and what it was like going on tour for a cause.

Hey Nick, how are you and how’s the tour been?

I’m great thanks. It’s been good, it’s been a bit strenuous getting from place to place, but it’s going well. Everywhere I’ve played so far has been really good, we haven’t done too badly, everyone’s come up and they’ve wanted a bit more information about what I’m doing and they’ve walked away seeming quite adamant that they’re going to jump on my myspace and have a listen or keep their ears open for the single and obviously the album as well when it comes out and we’ve also raised a fair bit of money for the charity.

What made you choose Starbucks for your Busking for Cancer tour?

Back in March I got an email about Cancer Research doing a couple of busk for cancer weeks every year and I thought it would be a good way for me to get out and also raise money for a good cause because a very close mate of mine, who’s quite young, has cancer at the moment, he’s fighting it, I thought it would be a really good tribute to him really and there’s been someone in my family that’s had it as well and touch wood, they manage to recover because they caught it early enough. So I just thought, ok where can I busk? I could do something in Wales but it’s a bit too small and I want to get out there and do something a bit bigger, so I thought, ok, what about Starbucks? I don’t know why it popped into my head, but it did and I managed to speak to someone at their head office in London, told them what I wanted to do and they basically just dropped me an email with a list of Starbucks coffee shops from Scotland, back down to Wales and I picked nine, called them up, had a chat with the managers and they were all good for it and said it wasn’t a problem at all and that’s basically how it came about. We started up in Scotland and just worked our way down.

So is it like an album tour slash fundraiser then?

Well there’s ten tracks on the album and basically those are the ten tracks that I’m going out and playing now on this tour as well as raising money for Cancer Research.

Do you get free coffee?

Yes actually. When we were in Scotland we had free Frappecinos, I love the Starbucks Frappes, especially the café crème ones. There’s a mate of mine that’s come on tour with me that’s helping me out and we’re just crashing in hostels and cheap hotels and stuff. When we were in Edinburgh and Glasgow we got free coffee and food, but they didn’t give us anything in Newcastle, they didn’t even offer, that’s not very hospitable.

Oh dear! Next time maybe?
Well it’ll be much better when we get down to Cardiff because that’s my home town and I know the guys there, that’s where the idea first came about, so we’ll definitely get free food and drink there.

Tell us a bit about the songs on your album

They all sound unique in their own way, they stand out to me. We’re just doing a bit more tweaking on it at the moment. I’ve enjoyed making it and working with the co-producer, a guy called Jo Gibb who has worked with the Stone Roses, Massive Attack, Catatonia and loads of big bands from the 90s, so it was really good to make, but a bit unexpected. I didn’t plan on making it, it just sort of happened, but that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this Busking Cancer thing now, I’m playing all the songs that were written, with just acoustic guitar and vocals and on the album we haven’t used any bass guitar or drums at all, just some strings and light percussion, a bit of keyboard, a bit of synths, so everything’s stripped down and laid back, it’s quite mellow. There’s two songs on there that are quite lively and the other eight are quite melodic, but not in the same sort of sense, they are all different.

So did you play in big bands before or were you always a solo artist?

I started when I was about 15, playing guitar, obviously I’ve been in bands and stuff like that, but I just decided that I wanted to do some solo stuff because I do a lot of production and sound engineering as well, so I just thought I’d go out and do my own stuff, I’ve done that one song, Anna, have you heard it?

Yes it’s great. I can’t wait for the whole album. Do you think it will be difficult getting a large fanbase with predominantly acoustic music since we’re in the age of electronics?

Possibly, but there are a few tracks on there that have gone that way anyways, so it’s a lot different to some of the stuff that’s out there at the moment, so it probably will be a bit difficult, but I’m determined to get it to as many people as possible and that’s why I’m going to be doing it as a download as well. I’ve never done anything as a download before, it’s going to be available through ITunes as well and hopefully people will like it. The first track, Anna is quite basic, as a song, there’s a couple of other songs on the album, like Turning which at is lively and really upbeat and the actual title of the album, the opening track is quite lively, 4:15am it’s got a bit of electronic influence in it, so each song sounds completely different. Even though they are all quite laid back and acoustic based, they have all got some electric guitar, but nothing too heavy. That’s another reason why I’m doing this really, I want people to hear it as it was written.

Well the Starbucks tour is a great place to start. I bet Costa are kicking themselves.

[Laughs]

Well actually I’ve been thinking about doing another tour later in the year because there’s another Busking Cancer week later in the year, so I was thinking that maybe the next step would be to maybe do a Costa Coffee shops tour as well and raise a bit more money. Although I was thinking that I might do it with an actual band behind me so people can hear the songs as they are on the record as oppose to just acoustic as everyone’s hearing it at the moment, but everyone seems to be liking the vibe anyways, there’s a couple of tracks I’ve been playing and a couple of people have come up to me after the shows and commented on them. Turning is one of them, that’s a really catchy song, probably one of the catchiest songs on the album, also Anna, a couple of people have asked me what that song is about and there’s a song on there called Mother, which is about my grandmother, she died just before Christmas last year. She brought me up as a kid and so everyone just seems to try and hold back the tears with that song and with the lyrics of that song, it’s quite deep, the whole album is quite deep. It’s the last song on the album as well, the last song in the set, because I’m playing the set as the album in order.

So it’s been an overall good experience for a good cause?

Yeah, it’s great, I’m enjoying it, I’ve never done anything like this before, a lot of people think I’m a bit crazy, because I’ve just jumped in a car and driven all the way to Scotland and working my way down the country over the next nine days, but if everyone did something like this, the world would be a much better place. You’ve got to do what you can to help out, like I said to someone today, cancer effects all of us and he said to me “yeah I know, I’ve had it, I’ve been 14 years clear so I appreciate what you’re doing”. That actually made me feel quite good that he said that to me, he was just a total stranger, but saw me with the T-shirt on in the street, carrying a guitar to Starbucks and asked what I was selling and if I was working for Cancer Research and I said “well I’m not working for them, I’m busking for them” and he came and watched the show, I think he was really touched by it. It’s a long drive and it’s been a nightmare to park because they’re all in city centres, but we’ve been ok and it’s all worth it.

Find more information on Nick’s music and Busking Cancer tour on http://www.myspace.com/nickbbyrne and http://www.buskingcancer.co.uk

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