We caught up with the Brum-born singer songwriter, Chris Cleverley, on the eve of his fourth album launch at the iconic Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath
Image credit – Abbie Barton
Chris Cleverley’s music has been described as ‘dream folk’ and ‘lo-fi folk’ and we’re not afraid to admit, we had to Google it before we chatted to him and we’re still not sure what it is. Forgetting the genre as we don’t think Chris slots easily into one box, his music is contemporary, mainly acoustic, gently melodic, ethereal, honest, sometimes raw often tackling some of society’s major issues – the climate crisis, displacement, the pervasive effects of AI and social media.
It’s not a heavy listen though – it’s beautiful. The album, Broadcast the Secret Verse launched last month at a shindig in Chris’s old stomping ground, the Hare and Hounds and kicked off his nine-date Secret Verses tour.
GRITTY AND WHOLESOME
As well as the grittier themes, there are more wholesome topics like connecting with nature and other people, so it’s nicely balanced. The new album is more experimental than previous work blending acoustic with electronics and influenced by some of Chris’s heroes, indie greats like Elliott Smith, Phoebe Bridgers and Sufjan Stevens. Singles from the album, Chlorophyll and Still Life have received national radio play and positive reviews already, so early signs are good.
Lockdown had a big impact on Chris and helped him to focus on what was important to him. He recalls: “Up to February 2020 I was a bit disillusioned and began questioning my music. By March/April I was forced to take a step back. I reconnected with my instrument and re-evaluated my work and what I wanted to say. It was an opportunity to really decide.”
Chris wrote 60 per cent of the album during lockdown benefitting from the clarity and headspace that time gave him. Chris has independently released the album which means he maintains creative control – he has a booking agent and a publisher but isn’t signed to a record label. While he can see the benefits of a label, he says it would have to be someone who really gets him and his ethos, so maybe in the future if that person comes along.
NO DOG EAT DOG
Not from a particularly musical family, Chris had no connections in the industry, so he’s done this the hard way. He took on various uninspiring jobs after graduating in history to enable him to gig in the evenings, rising through the ranks of the Birmingham songwriting scene. By 2014, Chris started to think this could be something more than casual gigging and potentially a career, so he began performing further afield in cities across the UK.
He worked at building up industry contacts and managed to get a few reviews in the mainstream press like the Telegraph and the Times. He says: “I wasn’t quite making a living, so I quit my job and went for it full-time.” Chris describes the Birmingham scene as “incredible, diverse and eclectic”, citing venues such as the Hare and Hounds, Night Owl and Mama Roux as particularly good. He says: “there’s no dog eat dog situation in the city. It’s very supportive.”
Chris’s Secret Verses tour, funded by Help Musicians, the UK’s artistic support programme, recreates the album in its entirety with a high-profile five-piece band featuring John Patrick Elliott (the Little Unsaid), John Parker (Nizlopi), Graham Coe (the Jellyman’s Daughter) and Kathy Pilkinton (Said The Maiden) and his ultimate ambition is to take his music further to Europe and the US and to collaborate with artists a few notches up from where he’s currently at.