The Big Interview: Peter Grant

In the summer of 2006, Peter Grant was on the brink of something big. Back then, the singer/songwriter was just 19 years old, still living at the family home in Guiseley on the outskirts of Leeds and driving himself to gigs in his trusted Fiat. However, having been dubbed Britain’s answer to Michael Bublé, Grant seemed to be on the verge of massive chart success. Even Sir Michael Parkinson said so.

It was largely thanks to Parky that Grant’s first album, New Vintage, featuring jazz and swing covers of everything from The Fool on the Hill to the The Girl From Ipanema reached no. 8 in the charts at a time when Gnarls Barkley and Lily Allen were dominating radio playlists. Grant, who had been playing working men’s clubs since the age of 12, had broken through to the mainstream. However, just as quickly as he arrived, Grant disappeared.

While in the last six years Bublé has picked up three Grammy Awards and shifted 30 million copies of his albums, Grant’s second album for Universal Music, Traditional, peaked at no. 29 and after its release in the autumn of 2007 little was heard of the singer with the impressive Tony Bennett vocals.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“After my second record, Universal were keen for me to go back into the studio to record another album of covers,” says Grant, now 24. “My heart wasn’t in it. Ever since I can remember, I’ve written my own songs. The writing has been important to me as singing and performing. I can understand why the record company wanted me to do covers. People are already familiar with the tracks, so it’s a much easier sell, but I knew that it wasn’t going to make me happy.

“In the end there was no animosity, we just went our separate ways.”

Grant has form when it comes to walking away. Before he was championed by Parky and signed by Universal he had successfully auditioned for The X-Factor. He made it through to the live finals, but at the last minute pulled out of the show.

He later said that it was no big deal, that he had just realised he didn’t want to be moulded into a commercial pop star and felt Simon Cowell and a jazz artist was unlikely to be a happy combination. Fast-forward to today, Grant, who has spent the last three years writing and recording his first album after leaving the bosom of a big label, is currently in the middle of a new tour and insists he has no regrets about going it alone.

“Profiles can take months and years to build, but they disappear overnight,” he says. “My first album sold 200,000 copies, I’d done the TV appearances and I’d experienced the screaming fans, but musically it wasn’t enough. There were times just after I left Universal when I was skint when I wondered what on earth I was going to do next, but I never once wished I’d kept going with them.”

Early in 2009, Grant met record producer Andy Wright, who had previously worked with the likes of Imelda May and Simply Red. Wright invited him to write and record with him at his studio in Battersea and soon afterwards, another producer, Gavin Goldberg, joined the mix. Grant says for the first time in his professional career he was given the freedom to experiment.

“When you are part of a big machine there are deadlines to meet, every year there’s another album, another promotional tour,” he says. “I understand why that is, but I really craved some time to develop and fine tune my writing. That’s what working with Andy and Gavin has given me and I’ll always be grateful for their support.”

One of the first songs to emerge from the recording sessions was When You Were My Girl, a track which combined an old school feel with a more contemporary sound. It’s a theme which continues throughout the album, Too Close, which was released under his own label last November. There was none of the fanfare which accompanied the launch of his debut, but Grant is clearly much happier with the end result.

“There are 101 things which go into producing and promoting an album. As an artist signed to a label you only have to concern yourself with a small part of that. When you’re on your own every decision, from the design of the art work to booking a tour comes back to you. That’s incredibly rewarding, but incredibly time consuming.

“It took three years to make this album and I hope the time and dedication we all put into it shows. This was the album I always wanted to make and I am incredibly proud of it. Going back on the road to perform brand new material is just the biggest buzz.”

The first time around, Grant was booked to play some of the region’s largest theatres, this time the venues are smaller, but having spent his early years entertaining drinkers in pubs and clubs across West Yorkshire he knows how to entertain most crowds.

“My dad was a professional singer and while he gave it up when I was born, he still used to do the occasional gig and I always wanted a part of it. By the time I was a teenager I was playing weddings, bingo halls and small, dingy jazz clubs. My dad’s thing was big operatic numbers, which has never really been up my street and in the really early days I used to go on stage to tell cheesy poems and sing terrible songs.

“At first the audiences thought I was cute. I was up there wearing a dodgy waistcoat and pyjamas with moons and stars on them, singing Frank Sinatra’s Lady is a Tramp before my voice had even broken. It was an invaluable experience, particularly given what’s happened in the last few years.”

A pupil at Guiseley School, Grant found lessons an unnecessary distraction from music. During one RE exam, he wrote a note to the examiner apologising for wasting their time and left school as soon as he could. Grant has never had a back-up plan, music is what he does.

“When I left school, I really didn’t know what was going to happen or how things would pan out, all I knew is that I wanted to play music. I was really lucky when my career suddenly took off, it was incredible hearing someone like Parky say they liked your voice and it did wonders for my profile, but I never thought for one minute that the success I had was permanent.

“Things change, you change as an artist, but the fact is that I’m still writing, I’m still recording, I’m still playing and I’m building a new profile on my own terms. It will take time, but that’s one thing I’ve got lots of.”

The other thing to have changed in the last few years is how people listen to music. Illegal downloading has been described as the nail in the coffin of new acts, but Grant is much more sanguine about the effect of the digital age.

“I’m all for the online world and believe it has only helped shape the future for music. With crazy new online developments and marketing ideas coming by the week, it can only be a benefit. I think more people need to understand and home in on online skills, including me, in order to prepare for the future we can’t hide from.”

However, after five years out of the spotlight, Grant’s time in the shadows may be about to come to an end. After performing on the same bill as Gary Barlow for a Children in Need Concert, the Take That star was so impressed by Grant’s vocals that he announced he was definitely one to watch.

“I guess there is a bit of a feeling of déjà vu ,” he says. “I really respect Gary Barlow and just performing on the same stage as him was incredible. He knew who I was from the first time around and he did say that he would be interested in working with me in the future. I’m still waiting for the call, but if it happens, then of course it would be fantastic, but you learn very quickly in this industry not to hold your breath.”

Grant moved to London to promote his first album, but he will be returning to Yorkshire next week to play the Leeds Irish Centre. While it may have been a few years since he toured, the other thing which has not changed is the comparisons to a certain Michael Bublé.

“If you thought the ever swoonsome Michael Bublé had that easy listening jazz market all wrapped up, you’d be right,” wrote one reviewer recently. “But the handsome devil had better watch his back as Leeds-born crooner Peter Grant is after his crown – he’s got the whole package; a seductive smoky voice that makes your heart quiver and sumptuous tunes that keep you warm at night.

“Stunning”

Grant doesn’t see the similarities, but he’s not about to quibble with such gushing compliments.

“I like what Michael Bublé does, he’s a great artist and deserves all the success he’s had. I hope the songs I’m doing now are more contemporary, than the kind of material he tends to do. If people want to compare me to him then that’s fine, but I’ve never set out to be like him.”

Like his hero Frank Sinatra, it seems Peter Grant is determined to do it his way.

Peter Grant plays the Leeds Irish Centre on March 15. For tickets www.wegottickets.com.

Continuing the musical theme, all next week in the Yorkshire Post, The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton, Pulp guitarist Russell Senior, Kaiser Chief’s Simon Rix and folk singer Eliza Carthy reveal their own personal love letter to Yorkshire.