Andy Baker: “Planting seeds and being patient does not mean you aren’t dreaming big”

Planting seeds and being patient does not mean you aren’t dreaming big. Things don’t have to blow up overnight, that’s something that happens to few, and the quicker the rise the steeper the possible fall becomes. Building worthwhile communities, especially when it’s something you love doing and is close to your heart, is so important […]

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Planting seeds and being patient does not mean you aren’t dreaming big. Things don’t have to blow up overnight, that’s something that happens to few, and the quicker the rise the steeper the possible fall becomes. Building worthwhile communities, especially when it’s something you love doing and is close to your heart, is so important and building bridges with people takes time and that time is worthy investment — when you have lofty ambitions, you’ll need help to get there and if you help others achieve their goals too then everybody wins. We’re stronger together, and that is everything our project stands for.

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Andy B & The World. It is a genre-hopping, continent-hopping collaborative band, rooted in the world of punk, skate, ska & protest folk music that occurred when producer/musician Andy B let his imagination run riot after spending years touring in Fandangle, New Riot & Upbeat Allstars.

“The First One”, the album that released January 2021, is a completely-DIY, self-funded record focused on ambition and unity, that donates all of its profits to charity — a theme that will run through everything the band/not-a-band continues to do. Oh, and it features an eye-watering 172 musicians from all over the world.

With community & equality at the project’s heart, the album sets a stage for musicians just starting out, right up to members of bands like RX Bandits, Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, [Spunge], Zebrahead, Hayseed Dixie, Ten Foot Pole, Bracket, MC Lars, Suburban Legends, Death By Stereo, Call Me Malcolm…. and everyone in between to share the same limelight on the same songs, their parts all seen as equal.

Lyrically, the album is a commentary on life today vocalised by combined voices from across the globe. It’s a real show of community, every single musician kindly contributed their time for free. Now, what comes next?

Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Thanks for having us!

Sure thing — well, I grew up a pretty ordinary kid in the town of Glastonbury in the UK — England’s Woodstock, I guess you could say — Had a nice family, one little hiccup getting moved schools around the age of 8 or 9 as I was disrupting classes and that knocked the old confidence somewhat, but I was getting back on track come the age of 13 or 14, where I first picked up a guitar. I could play a little piano — badly — but had always wanted to be in a band, so the guitar really was a step in that direction. I’d sit in front of my parent’s stereo, which was always blasting out 12″ LPs of The Clash, Madness, Dire Straits, Elvis Costello and so on at weekends, and record myself, play it back on a ghetto blaster jamming over the top and record it, trying to get friends to sing, go round knocking on our neighbour’s doors to get them to listen to it, anything — a total pest!

I actually, after my GCSEs, was refused a place to do a Music Technology A-level at the school I was at and so went to college — high school for the Americans — to do just that. Once I’d passed, I deferred my place in University so that I could play music and get a job to be able to buy some recording gear — A decision that would remain permanent. From then on, I was fully focused on playing and recording, above anything else. Any opportunity that arose I would try and take, and they could be few and far between coming from a small town. A stint playing in Skate Punks Mr Zippy led to my meeting Fandangle when we played together, and that was really when I finally was fulfilling the amount I wanted to get out there and play, as we toured relentlessly.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I think probably that chance meeting with Fandangle — I was having a fantastic time with Mr Zippy, but they were a bit older and had sort of got long-term touring out of their system, so I joined eager to tour and they were winding down on that front to a degree. I did a little tour driving for Fandangle after meeting but one phone call with Adam that summer when Matt, their previous bassist, left led to me joining, and we shared the same drive and ambition to just get out there and play — That’s how I got to meet members of bands like Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake and hundreds more in our scene, not only playing awesome venues but essentially making friends that I would down the line be calling upon for the project we’re chatting about today 🙂

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

Oh, there is one that always springs to mind — getting full-on electrocuted on stage in Belgium, first day of a European tour with Upbeat Allstars. The show was going off, and within a couple songs we’d taken our mic stands off the little stage and right down into the faces of the front row — it was hot, sweaty, and energised. Anyway — This was an old, old building. Exposed wires, crumbling walls, all sorts. I’m playing barefoot… (there’s your lesson to be learned, right there!) and between my old Mesa Amplifier that I’m not sure was grounded very well, and a metal plate on the floor that must have been somehow connected to the building’s main power supply on…. well, you can guess I’m sure! It didn’t so much hurt as it was incredibly slow motion, an intense hum and absolute confusion. I thought something was on my back, so I try to throw my guitar off but my muscles are contracted, fingers stuck to the strings — I had to push through the muscles being locked and eventually, I just remember suddenly hearing and being aware again, throwing the guitar away from me, throwing my hat off, throwing my t-shirt off not knowing what the hell was going on. We stopped and from my appearance it was pretty clear what happened. We paused for 20 mins, but I made sure we finished the set. I couldn’t sing and my fingers hurt like hell, my heart was pounding, I doubt I played well ha-ha — but we did it. Second lesson learned — I should have gone to hospital but didn’t — I’ve now got a funny little heartbeat every few beats, like a little drum fill. We live and learn!

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Be prepared to prioritise, and if you’re willing to do that, put your all into it but mostly put your heart into it. Life is short, and there’s no point putting your heart and soul so heavily into something you don’t LOVE. But all of us in music are doing it for the love of music, of course! Be open to new things, work with people, encourage an empire mind, be kind, and don’t be discouraged by anyone that puts you down or tries to talk you out of it. Don’t be afraid of change. I remember all the way through touring, being on the radio and our album selling in HMV and still being asked by people, even my then-girlfriend’s parents when I was going to stop and get a normal job. I mean, sure, have jobs to fund your life, I’m not saying never get a job, but — prioritise what you want to achieve.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m sure this is a common answer, but my family for sure. They were always supportive, even if they didn’t always get why I was so hell bent on not following a classic life plan — but not once have they ever suggested I should stop and give up, not once. When you reach for overly ambitious ideas, you do need people to keep you grounded but you do need mental support too.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

In the past I’ve worked taking hot meals out to homeless communities, even cycled to both Italy and to Norway with two other musicians from the UK raising money for Mental Health charities, but with this continuing project that led to this very interview, two ways..

Firstly, all of the profits from our whacking 172-musician album, and future albums, go to charity. I don’t take a dime of it, that’s not why I started it. I wanted to continue writing and playing music, but I wanted to bring people together with it, to give back, and to create connections. And with 172 musicians on our first album, we’ve certainly gone some way to achieving that. I was keen to promote ambition and unity with this — the idea of having bedroom musicians just starting out, to musicians at the top of their game and everyone in between share the limelight on the same songs was something I was very keen to make happen. On original songs too, new works, and not covers. I even reached out to a couple of friends that had never sung before, knowing they’d always wanted to sing in a band but never did — and got them to sing on this. We coached Glen through shouting some gang vocals right up to singing some lovely melodies in a mere couple of hours, and the look on his face was absolutely heart-warming! We also have Music 4 All as one of the two charities we are donating album #1’s profits to, who afford donated instruments, lessons and even grants to communities, to afford anyone of any background or situation the chance to discover the life-changing benefits of musicmaking.

Secondly, as we embark on our next adventure — post Covid — we have a second project alongside, also non-profit, where we will be recording and releasing the music of homeless and in-need buskers that would never normally have the chance, and releasing it for them, with all of the money raised going straight back to them, and in certain places where we can, their communities, and in places the most in need, to help with aiding the education and music / creative education in their area. All to be revealed very soon, but we’ll be looking to tell their stories and start a discussion on these matters with the public that want to help.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

Yea, one night out in Melbourne. This was Christmas 2016 I think, I’d had the idea for the band side of this project, involving multiple musicians instead of recruiting a band, but was also a budding photographer and was out in Australia for a few weeks. Anyway, I caught up with a friend, Pete, and we had a bit of a night out in Melbourne — I actually lost my phone in a bar! Anyway, we passed the back of St Paul’s Cathedral and I asked about the homeless community I could see there — this was around the time that back home in Devon I’d been volunteering with a group that took hot meals out to the homeless there three times a week, helped with supplies and shelters etc, so I guess I was doubly aware at the time. Anyway, we walked over and got to talking with them, and we were there for hours. They were so lovely, and it was heart-breaking hearing — bear in mind this is around the 23rd December — how people walk by turning their nose up or looking anywhere but to them, how no one stopped to think about why they were there, and that was essentially the light bulb moment. I knew I wanted to tell their stories, to break down that anonymity, and as I walked away my brain was racing about how we could do that as I travelled around visiting musician friends.

I woke up with two thoughts — One, we’ll donate all the money from the music we make to charity. All of it. Secondly… Oh god, I lost my phone in a pub earlier that night!

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Well, with the first album having only just come out it’s a bit early for that in this regard yet, but one chap I came across when putting this all together a couple years ago stays in my memory — I’d recorded with a friend of mine, Ernie, all day — I was trying out an idea I’d had to sister our main project called “Song In A Day”, where I’d meet up with another songwriter/singer, and from scratch, we’d write and record an entire new song in that day, and film it. We got through the day, and decided to go out into London with it (I had a laptop with a USB-powered interface, a mic and a small mic stand) and see if we could find any buskers who might join in before the day was up.

Well, we weren’t having much luck, and as we walked through Trafalgar Square, we could hear this trumpet playing from afar! So, we walked over, and it was an older chap, around 70 or more, sitting playing trumpet. Lots of people were filtering out of the theatres, so we stood by and watched him play, and when the footfall died down, he stopped to take a break, so we went over and started chatting with him. He was called Guy, he was close to 80 I believe, a lovely sweet Italian chap who moved over here 50 years ago with his wife, who had sadly passed, and he was living day to day on very little, and found great comfort in playing. We asked if he’d like to join in on the song we had made that day, and he explained that he’d never recorded, he’d never heard himself play! So, we recorded him playing whatever he liked — La Bamba in fact — and played it back to him. We did put a clip of this in a vlog some time back, but the look on his face was so full of joy, he was dancing and singing along with a big grin! We didn’t put anything to the song in the end, we just focused on his experience, and I’m so glad we did!

I’d really like to make that happen for so many more people as we embark on the next stage, as much as we possibly can.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Well, we’re a completely self-funded, DIY outfit. When we travel, it’s me paying, and of course, I do it so that we can donate all of our album(s, as there will be more) profits to charities — mostly based around homelessness, affording the disadvantaged the chance to get into music and mental health — but as we go, rather than walk the same path, we seek to promote ambition, to dream big, and as such we get more ambitious each time.

So really the main things would be for individuals and society to just share the hell out of what we do! Pass it on to people who you think may like it — the more people we reach, the more people we ultimately will be able to help 🙂 As for governments — well, any way we can work together to help boost the arts in your areas, we’re all ears and willing to pitch in.

And hey, if any businesses or investors are reading this and would love to put some money towards or sponsor helping us reach and help even more people, well please do reach out, he he — it would all go straight to funding our cause.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Learn to delegate ha-ha! Our project’s DIY ethic is strongly based upon my obsessive desire to put my absolute all into things and make them as fantastic as I possibly can — but the number of two-hour sleeps adds up and this being a very creative-heavy project, I think as we move forward assigning a couple of jobs within to other people is going to be a very good idea.

2. Find a way to get all your ideas down and be organised with them. I’ve got years of bits of songs in different sessions over different hard drives, many notebooks with only a few pages of lyrics, forgotten or lost ideas that I half remember. Things are much more organised now but when I look for older ideas — It’s a maze.

3. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. In our industry there can be a tendency to try to be larger than life, and if you’re calm, it’s exhausting and vice versa. Being comfortable with yourself is really important in terms of self-growth, and I would say I had a few early years where I might have been more productive if I wasn’t worrying about if we were living up expectations that were all in our heads.

4. Sacrifice is an inevitability of success. Aiming to shoot high in anything you do requires consistent dedication, and I think we can all be prone to letting ourselves wander from our goals at times knowing they’ll be there when we get back. I’ve done it myself, and each time I have, you always find your position to be a step back from where you thought you left things. With each time this has happened, I’m more aware that those goals are now likely to bloom when I’m a year older, two years older, and so on, than previously planned — I wish I’d learned that lesson quicker earlier on for sure.

5. Planting seeds and being patient does not mean you aren’t dreaming big. Things don’t have to blow up overnight, that’s something that happens to few, and the quicker the rise the steeper the possible fall becomes. Building worthwhile communities, especially when it’s something you love doing and is close to your heart, is so important and building bridges with people takes time and that time is worthy investment — when you have lofty ambitions, you’ll need help to get there and if you help others achieve their goals too then everybody wins. We’re stronger together, and that is everything our project stands for.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Ooh, I don’t know, I think I’m just doing my small bit and I’m sure lots of others are too — it’s together that we achieve great things across many fields with our combined efforts 🙂

If I could start a movement, I guess I would love to see more people making connections, helping those whose lives have left them against the odds have a chance to shine, be it projects to help education in poorer countries be afforded instruments, be it more ways for unknown artists to have a chance to reach people, to be able to earn something for their craft, and to see us all help those less fortunate in what we do. There’s a classic phrase we used to shout at gigs, about “if you see someone fall down, pick them up” — anything that sees more of that in more of society would be a real bonus. But I mean — I’m not clever in, y’know, I’m never going to be a banker, I’m not a doctor that can help roll out the Covid Vaccine quicker by doing extra hours — I’m trying to stick to my strengths, to help in the areas I know, as I see myself able to help the most amount of people that way — And our focus is heavily on homelessness, mental health and aiding the upcoming creative generations the ability to start the journey they’d love to do when otherwise they might not have the chance to.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

Wear shoes at gigs?

I think the one that sticks at the moment is along the lines of “your best tutors are your last mistakes” — learning as you go through life is so very valuable, I’m a big believer that we never stop learning, that we never know it all. I’ve learned a lot of ways to do and to not do our next collaborative album and travel, for example, and how to push it further, mostly by paying attention to what didn’t work last time, or what distracted me from achieving that goal, things like that.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’ve always thought it would be fascinating to sit and talk with Kevin Lyman, of Vans Warped Tour fame, how he put it together and running it with all those bands, the distances in the USA and so on. But really, I’ll sit and talk with anyone that wants to talk!

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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