The young MOBO winners might be a surprising choice for the GIT Award shortlist, but Getintothis’ Janaya Pickett finds a group who have more than earned their way.
There’s been lots of talk in the previous GIT Award profiles about bands being a surprise choice for the shortlist, but MiC Lowry are surely the most surprising. They harken back to slick 90s R&B – the type you would get on those Pure Swing compilations when you were a kid. Remember those? No? Just us then.
This is not the usual chin stroking potentially pretentious muso stuff you expect for an award such as this. MiC Lowry are a well established group, having experienced national success since becoming somewhat of an internet sensation in 2013.
In the three short years between now and then, the lads have been on a monumental journey. They’ve won the MOBO Unsung award and BET Viewer’s Choice Award for Best New International Act, supported R&B legends Boys II Men, played the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury and signed a deal with Decca Records.
On the day of our meeting, members Akia Jones, Kaine Ofoeme and Delliele Ankrah had been taken out by the dreaded “Liverpool lurgy“, but Ben Sharples and guitarist Michael Welch attended – although Welch was clearly also a causality! “We’ve known about the GIT Award for ages, through Esco. It’s really music focused and that’s why we’re so made up with the nomination” says Sharples.
The Esco in question is fellow MOBO winner Esco Williams. Williams was essential to the band forming in 2011 and has been a guide ever since. “To have someone like Esco as a mentor has been a blessing” he adds. The fondness for Williams is evident and totally understandable, having known him since age 15.
We then discuss the other nominees and the vibrancy of the Liverpool scene. They have that traditional scouse pride and we remember that there’s a silhouette of the city’s skyline on the bands website. So why is it, we ask, that we scousers wave our flag so high?
“It’s just part of us really,” Welch says between nose blowing. “People recognise the accent and seem to like it. We are very proud of where we come from, though. It’s been suggested a few times that we should move to London because it’s the centre of the industry, but Liverpool is home”.
With all members of MiC Lowry being scousers of mixed heritage, the conversation naturally leads to the multicultural history of the city and influence this has had on its music. We’re quite surprised by their knowledge and passion for all genres. Welch talks lovingly of his Dad, who has influenced his passion for music and fascination with guitarists in particular.
The conversation gets rather deep and this is not the boy band interview we were expecting. In fact, they seem a bit frustrated about some of their promotion. MiC Lowry started out on the circuit as an acoustic act, just a guitar and vocals, traditional R&B. They pattern themselves after vocal groups like 112 and Jagged Edge, not One Direction. “We consider ourselves a bit of a throwback group” Welch tries to explain.
Sharples adds; “R&B, vocal harmony group, a capella, whatever you want to call it. We just love performing”. We suggest that perhaps the boy band image is a by product of being young and that as they mature they can have more authority over their approach to their work. “Yes, we’re still growing and changing as a band. The newer stuff that we are recording is much more stripped back, classic R&B, back to where we started.”
Welch bemoans the one question he hates being asked most; “’When are you going on X Factor?’ All the time, it does my head in”. It is surprising – and extremely disappointing – that there is a prevailing notion that a young pop/R&B group would naturally want to compete on reality TV, like it’s the only way to make their voices heard and build an audience.
We discuss the celebrity aspect of the industry and agree that the reality formula can often stifle creativity. “It’s hard work keeping up with Facebook and Twitter, sometimes we don’t want to do it, but it’s so important now. And we came up on the internet, so we can’t really complain”. They’re not really interested in selfies or stylists either; “We’d love to do a video without us even in it, It puts more focus on the music” admits Welch. “Performing is the best. Our live shows are when people really see what we’re about”.
We get the feeling that our chat has come at a crucial point in MiC Lowry‘s development. Now aged 21 and 22, they’re gaining perspective and understanding. They’re ready to take ownership of their already successful careers.These boys can sing; MiC Lowry have dedicated their teenage lives to vocal training and rehearse five days a week (when in good health). “We’ve always had a very mixed fan base and I think the ‘boy band’ thing confused a lot of them,” says Sharples.
They resent the path a lot of singers their own age take, with Welch complaining; “It seems like the thing to do once you’ve grown up is rebel … it’s just fake. A lot of singers, they’re more interested in their image than their music”. We agree, there is many an artist who get by on their social media presence rather than a prolific musical output.
It’s a double edged sword. On the one hand reality TV and the internet have made it easier for artists to gain exposure, on the other it means a lot more effort needs to be put into your online persona.
Perhaps the most memorable part of our two hour chat was when trying to get a sense of what influences them now. What would influence their music in the future? Sharples admits he’s “really into D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and stuff like that. All the old R&B groups… New stuff, I love Nao and Kwabs. Very much interested in modern British soul”.
In discussing modern soul we lead on to a mutual appreciation of James Blake’s contribution. “When we were setting up for BBC3 at Glastonbury, we could hear him playing in the background, it was amazing,” Welch beams.
Well, James Blake is hugely influenced by D’Angelo we add and… “Prince and Jimi Hendrix,” Welch takes over, and carries on going back to Robert Johnson. “Blues is music that I really love. Everything comes back to blues”.
From the mouths of babes. We were impressed.
We left The Baltic Social feeling we understood these five you men, who live to sing. R&B vocals get a bad reputation, because of the warbling you hear from your TV every Saturday night, but it’s an incredible talent. One of the oldest. We came away genuinely wishing them best. They have more than earned their place on the GIT Award 2016 nominee list.
The GIT Award 2016 take place at Constellations on May 14. Tickets are available here.