He’s got his debut single out and is still beaming from its release party at Rough Trade. NICK PALMER quizzes 16-year-old singer-songwriter Joseph Knight about Keep Your Head Up, how he got where he is now and what’s coming up.
Sitting in dad Julian’s bright and modern flat in Southwell framed by several photos of him and his siblings on the walls, Joseph Knight jokes about the most frequent comment he receives: “You’re only 16!” Still, he really does look and act a lot more mature than his barely-pre-millennial birthday would suggest. Joseph is someone who, in complete contrast with most people his age, appears very much in control of his own life and where he wants to go.
Born in Notts, Joseph studied at Dean Hole Primary School in the picture postcard village of Caunton, near Newark, and and it was here that he first picked up a guitar aged eight. However, totally at odds with his current acoustic indie pluckings, Joseph was a bit of a metal head.
“My first album was a Metallica one, and I listened to a lot of AC/DC – my dad even took me see them at Download.”
Joseph then went through a startling transition a couple of years ago. Aged 13 (alongside the transition which meant his voice started breaking, presumably), when he hung up his electric guitar, ceased his headbanging and did the opposite of what Dylan did in 1965 – he went acoustic. And what caused this momentous switch?
“I was just a bit bored. I bought an acoustic guitar and thought it sounded alright.”
However, it’s worth noting that his transformation from greasy metalhead to beautiful acoustic butterly coincided with the start of Ed Sheeran’s rise to fame.
He played his first gig aged 14, at a village festival in Caunton, and what could have been a disaster turned out to be a solid start.
“It made me want to keep on performing – I got a buzz from it.”
It must do something for him. Joseph did over 30 gigs already this year, including playing at Hockley Hustle back in October. However, not all of his gigging experience has been good. Like any performer, sometimes it’s just not their day.
“I once played in a bar for one person. He looked like he was enjoying it, though. Also, I played a gig in Derby where the only people watching were from the other bands.”
Even with experiences like those, Joseph is undeterred and remains relaxed about his future as a gigging musician.
“I’ve played with people who are three, four years older than me, so I feel like I’ve still got at least that much left in me. If I’m still playing crap in three or four years then maybe I’ll think about quitting.”
These new tracks I’m doing are more complex in their structure and I’m incorporating some electronica
Joseph really does have an advantage in that aged 16, he is still young, and what’s really impressive is just how much of this he’s done by himself. His mum Kathryn Brown, a massage therapist in Southwell, proudly remarks on how independent Joseph has been.
“We have supported and encouraged him, but he’s done it all on his own. Neither of us are particularly musical, and Joe has been so independent. It’s been mum I’d like to do this, mum I’d like to do that. Joe has driven all of this.”
Between working and studying technical events at Nottingham’s Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, Joseph contacts venue owners, gig promoters and record companies. He admits that he probably spends more time networking than actually playing. Beneath the arty exterior he’s a cold, calculating marketing agent. This, in itself, reveals a very savvy approach to a music career, and from someone still so young, it’s refreshing to see. He knows that it’s simply not enough to play good music, he needs to be able to shove it in as many ears as possible.
The effectiveness of this networking is evident when looking at debut single Keep Your Head Up. It was produced by an old teacher of Joseph’s, Miles Clark, who also happens to be the head of publishing at I’m Not From London (INFL) Records, based in Nottingham. Joseph then talked to INFL managing director Will Robinson, and Will got in touch with the venue, Rough Trade, to ask if Joseph could have a release party there.
“I was expecting mostly just friends and family, but there were a lot of random people there, which was pretty cool.”
Much of this networking comes from knowing so many other artists in the Notts music scene including fellow solo acoustic teen Matt Humphries and bands such as The Insiders Live and Crosa Rosa, the latter of which have played Reading and Leeds festivals.
Looking to the future, Joseph is planning on recording a four-song EP around the new year but has developed his sound a little for it.
“My debut was the second song I ever wrote and I just wanted to put it out there as a way of archiving my initial sound. I still think it’s a good song. These new tracks I’m doing are more complex in their structure and I’m incorporating some electronica in there.”
Along with new material, Joseph is looking to make more connections outside of Nottingham, which though proving hard, is something he knows to be essential. Offering a final comment on how to get started as a performer and musician, Joseph muses: “I think a lot of people don’t realise that all it takes is asking someone.”
Joseph’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/josephknightacoustic/?fref=ts