THE MUSIC industry will always have its ups and downs. Jonnie Owen knows that more than most.
As lead singer of much-loved Swansea based band, The Last Republic, he hovered on the brink of the big time, with massive gigs, an album and critical acclaim before the band split last year.
But it seems a change in direction and a new project might just be his next ticket. And as he prepares to realise his second single with new act Bloodflower, he reflects on his journey so far.
From a young age, Jonnie, from Cwmgors, was influenced by his parent’s musical tastes, Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Status Quo.
‘My father bought me a guitar and I’d jump around my living room around the age of six whilst all my family watched and cheered me,’ says Jonnie, who has a degree in music and is currently studying humanities at Swansea University.
‘I’d shadow Francis Rossi of Status Quo’s every move. Twenty-odd years later I got to play with Status Quo in 2011 at one of their Thetford Forest nights.’ His brother also passed on a fair share of influences from Guns n Roses and Metallica to the Levellers.
In fact, the Levellers and their people power influence meant a lot more than the music; they became an anchor after the loss of his father to cancer.
A few years of gigging around both on his own and with other bands soon had Jonnie wondering whether it was time to take it seriously. Then he met a group of like-minded people and The Last Republic was born.
The band had begun to be noticed. An agent and management came next as well as money for gigs and radio airplay.
Then in 2009, the band won the Road to V competition to earn a stage place at the V festival. ‘It was a wonderful experience,’ he recalls. ‘Going from small clubs on the toilet circuit to having your dressing room next door to Elbow and Biffy Clyro was quite a leap to say the least. At V, we played to 10,000 people each day and the gigs were such a blast.’ The album Parade followed to much critical acclaim, especially from BBC 1 DJs Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe but was it enough?
‘By the time the album saw the light of day the fickle machines of the music industry had decided that there was no room for a post-rock band. This crippled us in the long run as we had this great album that we were very proud of, which was being raved about in the press, but wasn’t getting the support at radio,’ he says.
They decided that gigging and touring was the way forward. ‘The touring was always a wonderful time, times that I will cherish - and I am sure I can speak for the rest of the lads - for the rest of our lives. We supported Bon Jovi at the O2 Arena to 24,000 people. The gig itself was one of the most nerve racking and strange things I have ever done. ‘We also gigged with other bands such as the Levellers, the Alarm and the Charlatans, toured the UK, Europe and Texas playing festivals. We had a proper adventure. ‘ But it had all begun to take its toll. By 2012, the band announced their split.
‘The end of the Last Republic was not abrupt for us; it was a painful 15 months where our friendships and patience was at a struggle due to the poor sales of the first album. ‘Our final two gigs were as a four-piece and we were already leaving not only the original sound behind but had lost a founding member, Dafydd Anthony, who was the first to burn out. There’s only so much let down a person can take I suppose.
‘The band split up because we couldn’t face the same exhausting process of releasing an album that may not make us any return along with the whole two-year publicity and touring campaign that follows it. There is no remorse between us; we will always be like family.’ Around this time, Jonnie found influence through music such as Kraftwerk and David Bowie and he began to write and approach music differently.
A collaboration with long-time friend and producer Tom Manning, someone who was keen to take a more experimental look at music, came up, and Bloodflower was born.
‘I instantly knew when we listened back to these songs after spending two weeks throwing ideas at them, that Tom and I were actually a great team. But most importantly we were really on to something, we just weren’t sure what yet,’ explains Jonnie.
First single Indigo, was well received by the critics and fans, and Bloodflower are now recording their first album, with second single Horizon, scheduled for release in August. Their live debut performance will be at SWN festival in Cardiff in October.
There are exciting things on the radar for Jonnie and he is keen to share the moment with those he feels have supported him the most, offering thanks to family and friends for their encouragement, ‘I would like to thank the Last Republic boys for an amazing 10 years, Tom Manning for making Bloodflower more than an idea and the fans for always being the reason for me to do this. ‘My brother for stepping in as dad at that tender time, family and close friends that have constantly given me support and encouragement and big thanks to my step dad Phil who has also been a massive part of my life. ‘But the biggest thanks must go to my Mum who not only being a saint has been a massive part of my career, supporting my every decision; I’d be nothing without her.’ Visit Bloodflower’s Facebook page or www.soundcloud/iambloodflower for music and more news. Download Indigo now from www.musicglue.net