- 22 Feb 22
Scunthorpe native Stephen Fretwell is back on tour and more confident than ever.
The comeback album is always a tricky one. However, very few artists have had as long a gap between releases as Stephen Fretwell.
After having the upward career trajectory of releasing 2007's Man on the Roof to critical acclaim, playing support slots with the likes of Oasis at Dublin's Marlay Park and having his 2005 track 'Run' become the theme song to the hit UK comedy Gavin & Stacey, Stephen appeared to have disappeared from the music industry.
As he puts it, life got in the way, mainly in the form of becoming a father.
"I just stopped doing it," Stephen confides while packing for his upcoming tour in the UK and Ireland, kicking off in Belfast on Thursday.
"Life just took its natural turn. It was a lovely period of family time and I just forgot that [music] is what I did. I didn't really pick up a guitar for about five years."
One of the ways he was inspired to return to the music fold was when he heard that an indie peer of the mid-2000s (and onetime bandmate in The Last Shadow Puppets), Alex Turner covered '-', the closer to his record, Magpie.
"It certainly gave me a kick to do something," he admits.
"We have the same manager and for years, every month he'd give me a call and ask how I was. When Alex covered that song he put it to me like this: 'There are a million songs in the world and Alex has chosen to cover one of yours. You know, you're a good songwriter, get on with it.' A combination of that and a few other things spurred me on."
His comeback came in the form of his 2021 album, Busy Guy, his first piece of new music in fourteen years. Despite Stephen's concerns ("I didn't think anyone would be that bothered!"), the record was well received and has since culminated in gigs scheduled to take place over the next month.
At the helm was notable record producer Dan Carey, who, amongst other massive credits, is widely known here in Ireland for his work with Fontaines D.C..
"I'm pretty good friends with Dan besides music, he's always playing me stuff that he's working on and vice-versa," Stephen says, mentioning that plans for another new album with his confidante are already underway.
"By the end of last year, I thought that I had the full album ready. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, we were saying maybe we should take a minute to see if any more songs come. We've been taking about maybe making a fuller sound [for the next record]. The album I did last year is quite stripped-back. However, we still have to consider what the motivation behind making this 'fuller sound'. Is it to make it more commercial, which is something we both feel a bit uneasy about? "
Production concerns aside, Stephen is very excited to get back on the road. His absence from touring bar a few UK shows last year is reflected by the fact that he can't precisely remember when his last gig in Ireland was.
"Oh do you know what?" he remembers with a jolt. "It was when Kae Tempest played at Whelan's. I went over with all of that lot on a bit of a jolly. The last time I played in Ireland though must have been like thirteen years ago."
Nevertheless, he's an artist with big regard for Ireland. As well as giving praise to the aforementioned Fontaines ("They're amazing. I particularly like Grian banging his microphone stand on the floor at the end of their shows"), he promises he's not pandering when he praises us.
"I come from an Irish family. I'm adopted, so my surname is not actually my name. I'm always aware of sounding like a manipulative idiot, like when you talk to someone and say 'Oh yeah, I love your country', but there's definitely a different attitude in every place towards live music. Ireland is one of those countries where you walk on stage and you immediately feel that everyone is on your side to make sure we all have a great, great time, which is not the case everywhere."
A difference this time playing here is Stephen's additional life experience, which he says gives him a new perspective on playing live shows.
"One thing that's changed really for me is that I'm now a 40-year-old guy who's going slightly bald so there's no way I can walk on stage and have that same exuberance of youth or pretend to be someone I'm not," he divulges. "It was nice with the shows last year to walk on stage and just be who I am. That added a new confidence to the performances where I felt, I'm so lucky to be able to do this, I may as well just go for it."
Stephen Fretwell's full Irish dates are as follows:
February 24 - Voodoo, Belfast
February 25 - Upstairs at Dolan's, Limerick
February 26 - Whelans, Dublin
You can buy tickets for these shows and his UK dates here.
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