Shane Richie has been a household name for well over 20 years thanks to his work as a TV presenter and an actor.
Perhaps these days he’s best-known for playing the character of Alfie Moon in EastEnders but now he’s turning his talents to another passion, music. Richie released an album back in 1997 but now he’s embracing his love of Country music for new album A Country Soul, released on Friday 10th November 2017.
A mixture of covers and original songs, A Country Soul reflects Richie’s true musical interests and tastes and it’s sure to surprise a lot of people.
I caught up with Shane to talk about the album, discuss the push back he’s received while trying to get his music out there, and find out what his hopes for the album are.
I’ve been listening to A Country Soul and I have to admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised. In a few interviews I’ve seen recently you’ve been talking about getting stick from people about recording this album, which I don’t understand. Your original tracks are stronger than the covers…
Do you mean that?
Yes, I do mean that!
That’s the first time someone said that to me and I’ll remember that. Thanks buddy!
For this album, why did you decide to do a mix of covers and original material?
Hand on heart I would have loved to do a full album of originals. When I was going round different labels they were telling me it would be great if I did a swing album. I said, ‘no, please, that’s not what I do with my band’. They then suggested doing songs from musicals and I said, ‘OK, we’re not getting anywhere with this conversation are we?’
I told East West/Warners what I wanted to do and I mentioned ‘new Country’. As a little experiment I asked them to send me some songs that they’d like me to do. They sent me John Denver, they sent me Blanket on the Ground, Johnny Cash, a bit of Glen Campbell and I said, ‘guys I need to come and have another meeting’. I said, ‘this is what I’m prepared to do. Have a listen to Pat Green’. They’d never heard it but why would they unless you’re into that? I said, ‘listen to Jon Pardi, he’s just been number one’. They told me it was all about science, that people pick up a CD and look at the picture and go, ‘oh that’s Alfie Moon’. They flip it over and they want to see songs they recognise. I understood that, so I sat down and thought carefully about the kind of stuff I do with my band live.
I do Love the One You’re With but it’s not a Country song. I told them to listen to my version love the one you love for country. So when I listen to my version. I knew we’d never beat Luther Vandross’ version but I said to take my version, which is on YouTube with me singing with my band and a choir, and we’ll take a bit of Stephen Stills but my record producer Nick Southwood wasn’t convinced. I told him to trust me put and put in a nice steel pedal guitar then they were convinced.
I’m a big fan of Nik Kershaw and I love that song I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. He (Nick) said he couldn’t get it to work but I told him to take out the 80s pop guitar, get Bobby Valentino who was the fiddle player on Young at Heart by The Bluebells and get him to play the guitar part but with a fiddle. We put a real steel pedal guitar patch in it and I wanted it to sound like The Pogues, and hopefully it has done!
It sounds like it was quite a battle to record the album you wanted to make?
It was a big ship to turn round with East West to try and convince them that these are the songs that I do live. They asked me to do an Eagles cover and I said, ‘yeah, but there’s no way I’m going to try to emulate the Eagles’. Everybody in my band sings so we stripped it right back for Heartache Tonight and made an acoustic version.
That’s where my head was with the whole ‘new Country’ thing. When I was writing, we had 20 original songs we could have put on, I wrote with my son on Shut Up (‘Cause All I Want Is You), which was originally a pop song. You need to look at the last three or four years where you have Sam Hunt rapping and Keith Urban has Pitbull rapping on a track and Nile Rodgers on his album. The parameters have moved.
A lady came up to me at a Drake White gig recently and said, ‘it’s people like you that are going to kill Country music! Why don’t you just go back to EastEnders?’ I understand what she was saying and I totally get it because it might look like I was jumping on a bandwagon but there is no bandwagon to jump on. Certainly not in this country. If people that are fans of mine can come to me and say, ‘I really like that, I’ve never heard of Pat Green what else has he done? Or they might go, ‘I really like Jon Pardi, what else has he done?’ From there they might say, ‘I’ve never heard of Rascal Flatts’ so they go and listen to Rascal Flatts. Hopefully I’m going to open Pandora’s box.
I think there’s a good mix on the album. It was very brave of you to tackle Rascal Flatt’s What Hurts the Most and also Darius Rucker’s Wagon Wheel as well. Were you nervous to be recording such big well-known songs?
I could never sing it like him (Gary LeVox from Rascal Flatts). I was really nervous about What Hurts the Most. He’s got an incredible voice and I brought it about four tones down from the original. We changed the arrangement slightly. I love it lyrically and I think it’s a brilliant song. I wanted Andrea Corr to duet with me but I was up against the clock, and that’s not to say she would have said yes, but I loved the idea that she might say yes.
Wagon Wheel… I remember being out with Darius in Shepherd’s Bush for a drink and he was telling me about the song. Of course he had a big hit with it and people thought he’s written it but it was actually Bob Dylan and Old Crow Medicine Show recorded it. Nathan Carter had a hit with it too so I had a listen to his version. I wondered how we could it make it my own so we gave it a live pub feel. How do I. Oh sorry about it today with a journalist look at me like I started.
I think it’s nice at the moment in the UK that there is this focussed community of Country music fans. It feels pretty special right now…
Do you like that? I want everyone to know! I want radio to play Midland instead of Justin Timberlake. I would love them to do that. Girl Crush by Little Big Town is one of the best ballads I’ve heard in the last five years. It’s an incredible love song. I played it to my wife and she went, ‘oh my god, every woman would feel like this!’ You have to go to HEM or Chris Country to hear these songs.
When I go on radio songs and they want to play songs that inspire me, I suggest Darius Rucker or Jon Pardi and they don’t know what I’m talking about.
Like I mentioned at the start of this interview, I think the 3 original songs on the album are strong and they’re the standouts. Why did you pick those three out of all the songs that you’d written, to include on this record?
A lot of that was time. At one point they were talking about me having no originals on the album. I kind of had a battle and they said you can have two originals. I was on tour in a play and I’d started writing a song, and I had the title in my head. Funnily enough it’s a true story!
Where I grew up in northwest London, there was a girl I really liked when I was 10 who lived around the block. I never used to go round the block, I used to go across the gardens and there was actually twenty two gardens. I remember thinking, ’22 Gardens what a lovely title’ so I started writing that. At the end of the tour I put it to one side and I got writer’s block. When it came to the album I sat down with Nick and I said, ‘I’ve got this tune in my head’. I started playing it and he liked that so we brought in another writer called Sara Eska who’s had some success in Nashville. She said, ‘OK, what’s the story we’re telling here?’ I explained the story and it was a wonderful way of me letting go because sometimes I struggle to collaborate but with this it was like I opened myself up.
There was only supposed to be 12 tracks on the album but we fought for 13 tracks and I wanted 22 Gardens to be in there. We managed to squeeze it in with a bit of a battle.
The other one is That Bottle Ain’t Your Friend. Sara played me something and I really liked the sentiment but I didn’t love the version. We changed the arrangements slightly and I realised I was singing about me having a drinking problem and how I lost my wife. It’s fairly well documented that I was drinking and I kind of lost my way. I absolutely enjoyed the process of having nothing to compare it to. I would like to make a whole album of originals. Who knows? Maybe if this is a hit, a couple of years down the line we could be talking about 12 stonking originals.
The originals on this record are good so I would definitely be interested to hear a full album of originals from you.
It’s just a case of people playing it. I think that Shut Up (‘Cause All I Want Is You) should be on the radio because it’s a great pop song with a Country feel.
What kind of push back have you had when you’re trying to get your music out there?
The album isn’t out yet but I’ll be pulling in lots of favours. It’s often some guy in an office with a cigar that makes these decisions and they don’t know Midland from Bananarama. That’s what you’re up against. If people listen to it and they don’t like it, I’m fine with that but if come February people are like ‘I didn’t know you had an album out’, that’s what would break my heart.
It’s thanks to people like you that are saying, ‘hold on a second, this bloke isn’t a joke, listen to this’ so thanks for flying the flag!
When I first listened to the album I thought if you were truly trying to make a quick buck, you likely wouldn’t have chosen to release a Country album in the UK would you?
No! Like I said I got asked to do songs from musicals. I was offered a load of money to go and do a Michael Buble/Tony Bennett/Frank Sinatra kind of thing. I was offered a fortune but I don’t do that live. How can I go out with an 18 piece orchestra or go out with my band who are all Country guys, they’re on tour with Katy Hurt at the moment? How can I get them to sing Mack the Knife? (laughs). It’s not where I’m at. A Country version of Mack the Knife could work though… (laughs)
Do you have plans to support the album with a live tour?
Not at the moment I don’t but if it’s a hit I would do a quick tour up and down the Country. I’d love to do Nashville Nights, and I have been asked about that, if the album’s a hit. If it’s not a hit I’d still do gigs and I’d still go and play in pubs, the odd festival and car parks. If I can just go and have a laugh with the band, I will. I think so they can do music week is going to be a lot bigger next year from what I’m hearing. There’s going to be a lot more stuff going on than there was this year which obviously Drake was part of.
What would you say to somebody who may be sceptical about picking up the album because they know you as Alfie Moon from EastEnders? Why should they give it a listen?
Because it’s Shane Richie from EastEnders! (laughs) The last person who wants to escape from any success they’ve had is me. I’m thankful for the career I had before EastEnders and I’m thankful for Alfie Moon. If kids go in with their pocket money and say, ‘you know what, my Mum loves Alfie I’m going to buy this album’ and then Mum’s playing it and Dad’s in the background and says, ‘hold on, what’s this? Is that the bloke that plays Alfie? I like this!’ and he plays it to his mate and so on, I’m happy as long as it gets heard. If they hear it and don’t like it, I’ll hold my hand up and say ‘thanks for listening’ but if they don’t get to hear it I’ll be gutted.
A Country Soul is released on Friday 10th November 2017 through East West Records.