We continue our series of interviews with musicians we think shape music scenes and sonic landscapes around us this year. They don`t have to be spring chickens leading revolutions and tearing roofs off the venues. They can be experienced artists, wiser in their business ways and accompanied by a trusty guitar. And they are still relevant, on point and powerful in their expression. Today, we present you Ian Passey, who is the force behind The Humdrum Express. Ian will be one of the artists that will rock Worcester for Musicians Against Homelessness. Read on, dear friends. This is as we say: banger of an interview and an artist you have to know.
A thousand things to worry about
An esteemed artist, Ian Passey, has built a solid fan base in the West Midlands under his moniker, The Humdrum Express. Championed by BB6 Music and sharing stages with the rock and roll greatest, Ian is returning to his home turf this September to support Worcester Music Festival and play a charitable show for the national campaign, Musicians Against Homelessness. We have met Ian to discuss his many achievements, stardom and new music he is currently working on.
BBC describes you as “One man, a few instruments and a thousand things to worry about”. Who exactly is Ian Passey?
Ian Passey: I’m a singer/songwriter based in Kidderminster. I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember, firstly as a member of various bands (Smedley, Jackpot, Swagger). After a bit of a break, I decided to do my own thing, initially bedroom recordings, before taking the plunge back into gigging. Ten years later, I’m still here – writing and performing with as much enthusiasm as I’ve ever had. I suppose the “thousand things to worry about” tag came from the underdog slant of the lyrics, attempting to fear the worst in a humorous way. Either that or it’s a good guess!
The Humdrum Express is your solo project. You write your own music, produce your albums and play all instruments – you are a one man band. Do you prefer to work alone?
Ian Passey: Although that was the case a few years ago, in more recent times, I’ve really enjoyed working with other people. My last couple of albums and most recent EP has been produced by Mick Lown. Not only is he fun to work with, but also has a great knack of suggesting ideas and instrumentation to suit a particular song. It’s a refreshing way to work which helps to prevent getting stuck in a rut. As far as videos go, I’ve been teaming up with Nick J. Townsend pretty regularly. Again, he’s someone I really enjoy working with to help expand on some of my ideas. I love to get as many people involved as possible with the videos and I’m always amazed by how many love being a part of them. I’ve also got several musician friends, who have enhanced some of the recordings for which I’m extremely grateful. Long may these collaborations continue! I’m always on the lookout for new ones if anyone’s interested…
It is hard to categorize your music. Some journalists put you into spoken word or singer/songwriter category; others consider you to be a prime example of what experimental music should sound like. How do you feel about the constant need of squeezing artist into existing genres? Is there any style that could comfortably describe what you are doing or do you avoid being labelled at all?
Ian Passey: The need for genres is something that has bugged me for years! I always put lyrics ahead of any particular musical style and I’m quite happy to change it when the need arises. I love the spoken word style as much as the classic verse/chorus/middle eight structures. It all about getting the maximum impact from a phrase, I suppose.
Your lyrics, an important part of your music, are complex and straightforward. They’ve earned you a reputation of a “bespectacled observationist, casting a cynical eye over exasperating times”. Where do you look for inspiration?
Ian Passey: I don’t really look anywhere for it, but always seem to stumble across something. That being said, this is proving to be my leanest year, writing wise, for some time. Perhaps I should start looking?! Like most artists, I work better when there’s a deadline looming so maybe I should start thinking about album number six…
The Humdrum Express album “(Failed Escapes from the) Clones Town Blues” received great reviews from leading music journalists such as Steve Lamacq. Your newest release “The Day My Career Died” has been championed on BB6 Music. Has the exposure helped you to advance your career outside of West Midlands?
Ian Passey: It’s been fantastic in so many ways. Being pitched alongside artists I admire has helped improve and focus my writing. The thought of being found out as an impostor drives me on to write stuff worthy of the airplay! The knock-on effect is obviously the new people all over the world who suddenly have access to your music.
You have shared stages with many legends: performance poet John Cooper Clarke, Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü), Ian McCulloch (Echo & the Bunnymen), The Wombats, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Wedding Present, Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers) and Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff) to name just a few. If you could choose another person to perform with, who would that be?
Ian Passey: Tricky question! Billy Childish would be nice as it would mean he was back playing live again. I did three dates with John Cooper Clarke around 2010 and I’d love the opportunity again, although the venues he’s packing out these days are much bigger than back then. I was due to support the Sleaford Mods a couple of years ago until the promoter in Leamington opted for a more local act instead. That would have been great, but it wasn’t to be.
You are probably the only person from Kidderminster to ever play at Glastonbury festival. How do you remember this experience?
Ian Passey: Hazily! I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one from Kidderminster either! It was hardly the Pyramid stage but it was great fun. I seem to recall the act on before me end with a cover of “Take on me” by A-ha which the crowd lapped up. I’m not sure why, but I thought I’d end my own set in similar fashion… by tearing through “Gather in the mushrooms” by Benny Hill! Unless my memory is playing tricks, I received a standing ovation!
We have to ask you – was “Worcester Woman (Forgate Me Not)” written about a real person linked to the city or is it licentia poetica?
Ian Passey: I’ve always viewed that one as a bit of general daftness! It’s a fictional tale that attempts to mix romance with political terminology. It doesn’t get played too often but I’m tempted to give it an airing on 22nd September, particularly as The Marr’s Bar gets a mention.
The Humdrum Express has many faithful supporters on the local scene. You have played Worcester Music Festival several times, always coming back by popular demand. This year you will also support Crisis charity by performing at Musicians Against Homelessness event on 22nd of September. You will appear on the acoustic stage.
Ian Passey: I’ve been lucky enough to play at every Worcester Music Festival apart from the very first one. As it happens, I’m not playing this time but will be promoting an evening as I have done for the past three years. My event will take place at The Firefly on the Sunday, featuring several of my favourite grass roots discoveries.
What are your plans for the autumn? Any upcoming tours?
Ian Passey: I’ve got some great gigs on the horizon… I’m playing my biggest headline show to date at The Rose Theatre in Kidderminster on 7th October (tickets available from their website!) It’s a near 200 capacity all seater venue and, without giving too much away, will be much more than the usual gig format. I’ve also got dates with the likes of CUD, Mark Morriss and Half Man Half Biscuit to look forward to, so it should be a fun few months. I’m releasing a brand new single early in November with an accompanying video, so I’m pretty busy until the end of the year.
You can follow Ian and The Humdrum Express
If you want to see Ian Passey play Musicians Against Homelessness concert, tickets are a £5 and can be bought from the links below:
To find out more about MAH visit Musicians Against Homelessness on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mahgigs/