Next month local legends Vinnie & The Stars launch their latest album Development at The Duchess. We talked to their front man Craig ‘Vinnie’ Whitehead about touring America, the paranormal and Hull City.
By Graeme Smith
Tell us about your new album Development.
Development is the third Vinnie & The Stars album. It started out with a few individual songs but soon transformed into almost a concept album describing a life’s story and delving into the paranormal. Once I’d got this idea and started putting pen to paper and recording demos the album sort of wrote itself. I was just filling in the spaces between the songs I had with more songs. It was a different songwriting experience writing a whole album and not a collection of individual songs. We recorded the drums, bass, keyboards and electric guitars here in England, then I flew to Prince Edward Island, Canada to work with producer Paul Milner at Shell Lane Studio to record the acoustic guitars and vocals. Paul is a multi-award winning producer who has previously worked with Keith Richards, Eddy Grant, Sting and many more amazing musicians. I think it’s our most accomplished album to date. I think my song writing has matured and the whole album is a massive step forward for the band musically.
How does it compare to your previous albums?
This is the first Vinnie & The Stars album I’ve done with a consistent line-up. On the first album, Swings & Roundabouts, there were thirteen musicians involved. Performing on this album, there’s myself and the three other band members: Andy Precious, bass, who’s been in the band since before the first single was released in 2007, and there’s Tom Shillito ,drums, and Kath Perring, keyboards, who have joined the band since we recorded our first two albums. There’s just one additional guest musician, Roger Taylor, playing various brass instruments on the track You Don’t Know.
Every album we’ve recorded it feels like we’ve progressed as a band. This is the first album I played all the guitars on and the band is the line-up we have for live shows. There’s songs on both our other albums we’ve never been able to play live as they were recorded because of the guest musicians and instrumentation. This album is us as we are. The other albums were recorded in bits and a song at a time over long periods. I think listening to this album compared to our other albums it shows. The first two albums where very different to each other. Swings & Roundabouts was very raw and ‘live’ feeling. We didn’t really have a drummer at the time of recording Punkological Business so it has quite a lot of programming, and was more hip-hop produced. I think we’ve taken what we did best from both the previous albums and used the experienced gained from them to bring out the best in the band for this album. I think the recording we captured and the way Paul has mixed the album is the best representation of what we’ve been aiming for sonically since day one. I’m proud of all the albums I’ve done, but specially proud we’ve kept progressing each time with the quality of what we are putting out there.
You used crowdfunding to try and cover the cost of the album production. How was that as an experience?
I’m extremely grateful to everyone who contributed to our campaign. Unfortunately, we didn’t hit our target but the money we did make did go a long way towards covering the cost of my flights to Canada. We went ahead with the project anyway but had no funds to cover the cost of the perks, mainly the manufacturing of 100 limited edition CDs. We’ve got the CDs now and I’m hoping everyone who is owed one will have it by the album launch. I’ve started sending them out already to people who won’t make the album launch. It was a massive learning curve for me. I don’t think I’d use crowd funding again unless we had no other option. If I could avoid it in future, I would but the opportunity to work with Paul in Canada on the album was too good to refuse and we had to make it happen at all costs. Hopefully, with album sales and increased ticket sales at gigs, we won’t need to do it to fund the next album.
You’re launching it at the Duchess with Unfinished Drawings. What have you got in store for the audience?
It’s our first headline gig at The Duchess. With a headline set, a big stage, and a great sound system you can expect a massive sound and an energetic performance. Now people have heard the album, the songs will be a little more familiar with the audience, so we’re hoping the crowd really get into it and enjoy the show. I think the writing and recording of this album has really helped our live show and sound progress. Toby of Unfinished Drawings has been playing some top gigs recently so I think he’ll be on form. We’ve also got Ian Wilson on the bill. I’ve been enjoying his EP and can’t wait to hear his new stuff live.
The Thrill of It
Vinnie and the Stars
From the album Development
Video by Michael Buckley
You’ve just done a video for your track The Thrill of It, full of séances, ghosts and spooky goings-on. What’s the most supernatural thing you’ve experienced?
I used to be a member of a paranormal investigation team. The song and video was influenced by that. I’ve spent nights in some of the countries most haunted locations doing séances, ouija boards, using all sorts equipment to find evidence of the paranormal. I seen taps turn on by themselves, had a chair I was sat on shake. I’ve seen table tipping. felt the room temperate and atmosphere change in an instant. All sorts of stuff. The most supernatural experience I’ve had? I’m not sure. There’s been a few. I hope I’ll experience a few more in the future as well. It’s a proper buzz. Because I gig full time now I don’t get to go on invos much any more.
You’ve supported the likes of Henry Cluney and Billy Bragg. Who have you enjoyed playing with the most and who would you like to play with in the future?
Supporting Goldie Looking Chain was loads of fun! I love supporting bands you’d pay to go see, not just for getting in for free but it gives you a real sense of achievement. I supported Josh Pyke at The Duchess solo acoustic and thought it was a great performance. I’m hoping one day we’ll get to support G Love & Special Sauce, We jammed together in New Orleans after their show on the tour bus, and I’ve know G Love for years. Hopefully it’ll happen. I feel like every time I get support slots like these it makes me improve and up my game. I feel in music you’ve gotta keep pushing yourself.
You’ve also played at Mark’s Madness Festival in Louisiana. Tell us the story.
In March 2014, I did a tour of Louisiana playing in some great blues clubs and music venues in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The Mark’s Madness Festival is a yearly festival to raise awareness of ALS [Lou Gehrig’s disease]. A friend from Hull, John, lives over there now. He came to England with a couple of the organisers and they saw me play a gig at Hull Uni and followed my progress which led to me getting the gig. We managed to fill two weeks’ worth of gigs in the diary before the festival to promote it as well. It was a great festival on the bank of the Mississippi River. It was another one of those experiences that made me up my game and push myself. Just me, my guitar and a harmonica on the rack around my neck in a smokey New Orleans Blues Bar waiting to perform in front of seasoned pros that had been killing it all night seriously makes you play at your best. Moments like that stay with you. It felt like I improved in an instant just playing over there.
What’s your opinion of the current York music scene?
I love the York scene; that’s why I live here! We’ve got some great venues here and lots of great musicians. Everyone just gets along with it. I find it more cooperative and less competitive then other cities. I run open mic nights every Sunday at The Red Lion and the first and third Fridays of the month at Lendal Cellars. I get to see a lot of the up and coming acoustic artists progress. People play for the first time in a pub and I also get to have a beer and catch up with the more established musicians and regulars at them too. I started out playing open mics myself and I think about all the experience I gained from them good and bad. I try and make sure no one who comes to one of my nights has a bad experience. I like having a part to play in the music scene. There’s some great bands and musicians in York. Boss Caine, The Blueprints, The Franceens, and A Jokers Rage are just a few of my favourites. There’s just so much good stuff going on. And I think it’s always improving. It’s like the city is pushing itself to become a major city for music in the UK. I think York being a tourist city also helps. The ale is decent here as well. A decent pint of ale goes hand in hand with good music!
How do you rate Hull City’s chances of staying up this year?
I think for a season hampered by injuries we’ve done well to be where we are, I’m not sure we’ve done enough yet to stay up and there’s some tough games ahead. If we play like we did against Chelsea for the remaining games we should pick up enough points to stay up. I also can’t see Leicester or QPR staying up so it’s between a few teams who’ll go down with them. I’m a season ticket holder and would like to be a season ticket holder in the Premier League again next season. I think Hull City have the best squad we’ve had in my time and are playing some good football. Steve Bruce will do a good job and establish us as a premier league team.
Any last words for the fans?
I’d like to say thank you for all the support. I love making music and it’s great that people appreciate what I do and enjoy the music I put out there. I hope it reaches as many people as possible. As long as people keep coming to Vinnie & The Stars gigs, buying our music on CD or download, we can keep doing it. Same goes for the acoustic nights I run. It’s the people that turn out and support what I do that makes it happen. Every time we’ve played a Vinnie & The Stars gig our tickets sales have increased. I think we’ll pull our biggest ever headline gig crowd to The Duchess at our album launch. I’m hoping so. We wouldn’t be able to do that without people enjoying our music. I’d just like to say please keep sharing our music and helping us spread the word. There’s free downloads available on our soundcloud and official website. If people share them and our music videos, hopefully our fan base will increase and more people will come to our shows and buy our albums. So I guess I’ll finish with: if you like Vinnie & The Stars music, tell people about it. I’d massively appreciate that!
Vinne and the Stars launch their album Development at The Duchess on Friday 10 April 2015.