Saint Raymond. Photo: Debbie Davies
“I have Callum on the line for you. Are you ready for the call?” It’s a sign of an artist’s rising fortunes when the only way you can speak to him is through the record company’s press office. It’s also quite unlike most LeftLion interviews, which are simply a case of arranging which pub to meet up in after the act has finished work or college for the day. But for Callum Burrows, who signed as Saint Raymond to Asylum/Atlantic Records in August, there are now more exalted protocols to follow.
“It’s all crazy now”, he says, speaking to LeftLion from “sunny Hastings”, where he’s working on new material for a forthcoming EP, with a debut album to follow. “But to be honest, life hasn’t changed a ridiculous amount, in terms of what I’m doing. We’ve just carried on with the goals we set out. But we’ve obviously got a bigger team to help us out now, so it’s all good.”
For all his playful daftness on Twitter, Callum comes across as a serious-minded fellow with an utterly professional mindset, who’s not about to squander his opportunity. The way he sees it, Asylum “appreciated the work we were doing, and they wanted to get on board and help out. I’ve had advice about stuff, but it’s not been an overbearing thing. It’s a brand new world for me”, he adds, “and it all came very quickly. When we released the EP (Escapade, which came out on Gabrielle Aplin’s Never Fade label in May), we didn’t expect much of a reaction, and we got into the Top 25 on iTunes.”
While 2013 has been a landmark year for Callum, it has also been a year which has forced him to adapt quickly to new situations. The instant success of the EP led to extensive national radio airplay – Zane Lowe is a particular fan – and a Radio One playlisting for Letting Go over the summer also led to some lucrative synch deals.
“I was watching a programme, and they played one of my favourite songs, and I was like, ‘oh, I love this song.’ Then it went quiet, and a song came on, and I was like, ‘oh, wait. The next song was me.’ So it was kind of weird. When you’re in the public domain, you can be in a position where you’re just watching telly and you hear your own music. It’s a strange concept, but it’s brilliant.”
In fact, all four tracks from the Escapade EP have ended up soundtracking scenes on a variety of TV shows, including the final scene of the most recent series of Made In Chelsea: a prestigious, if somewhat incongruous moment.
Although the EP was recorded with a full band line-up, it was recorded at a time when Callum was still performing as a solo acoustic act – most notably at Dot To Dot in Nottingham, two days ahead of its release, when the eighteen-year old played the main stage of Rock City to a full and noisily appreciative house.
For Saint Raymond’s next festival appearance, on the Jagermeister stage at Splendour, it was clear that a full time band had to be recruited – but astonishingly, the band only began rehearsing on the night before. “We were thrown in at the deep end”, Callum admits. “Splendour was a big moment, playing for a home crowd, and it felt really special.”
A similar challenge presented itself in September, at the Theatre Royal’s Nottingham Rocks showcase. Headlining the evening, Callum appeared without his band, accompanied instead by a fourteen-piece orchestra. Once again, this was another last-minute, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants affair.
“You have your first rehearsal with the orchestra the night before, and they know your songs better than you do. So you can’t make a mistake or anything; they’re so tight. That was another special moment.”
Later the same month, on the eve of his first headline UK tour, Callum faced another major test of his nerve. “The tour started on the Tuesday, and we had the first rehearsal on the Sunday, but the guitarist dropped out on the Friday. So we literally found someone on the Friday, who was a friend of a friend. It was so last minute, but it’s been amazing that he managed to pull it out of the bag.”
Unlike some solo acts, who get thrown together with a band by their record companies, Callum has been able to recruit his own team – including his brother-in-law, who plays bass. “I always wanted a friendly and family vibe on stage” he explains. “I think you see a lot of musicians, where you can just tell that they’re session musicians, and it doesn’t feel like a good vibe at all.”
The addition of a band doesn’t affect Callum’s writing process, though. “From day one, even when I was doing it acoustically, I was always writing with a band in mind. So nothing’s changed. When I wrote Fall At Your Feet, about eighteen months ago, that was always a band song.”As for the name, which originated when Saint Raymond were a duo and continued after Callum went solo, “Saint Raymond is me. I always wanted to be an artist with a different identity to myself, because I think you can easily slip into the category of, ‘oh, you play the guitar and you’re a singer, so you must be like Ed Sheeran or someone like that.’ I always wanted to steer away from that. The name was personal to me, so I always wanted to stick with it.”
Despite this year’s sudden surge of progress, Callum has always tried to manage his development at an even pace. “I’ve always built it progressively and wanted to do it organically, take my time, and make sure the music was right. There are a lot of artists who are very keen to get the music out there, but you don’t want to be putting a product out if it’s not identifying yourself, and if you’re not making a statement about who you are, because it just becomes a confusion.“
In common with acts such as Harleighblu and Georgie Rose, he hasn’t gone down the slap-it-all-out-for-free-on-SoundCloud route, either. “I see some artists who decide to release all their catalogue really early, but I think you have to be careful. If that EP hadn’t reacted very well, then I might have gone, ‘well, maybe the thing we’re doing isn’t working at the minute, so maybe we need to change the vibe of it.’”
With the possibility of widespread national acclaim now dangling in front of him, our talk turns to future opportunities, and future perils to dodge. Of all his musical heroes including Noel Gallagher (“I was brought up on Oasis”) and even, startlingly enough, the long-departed George Formby (“I had a really weird obsession”) – Callum would most like to meet Paul McCartney, his favourite Beatle. This leads us furtherinto speculative waters, as I present him with a list ofthings that properly famouspeople do, seeking his reaction to each item.
For the record – and perhapswe should come back andcheck this in a couple of years time – Callum would say “yes” to an appearance on Later With Jools Holland, even if that meant being accompanied by the man himself on boogie-woogie piano. (“You’ve gotto, haven’t you? He looks so chilled, yet his fingers are doing these amazing things.”) However, it’s a firm “no” to the poisoned chalice of a Sunday night X Factor guest slot, and an equally firm “no” to a spot of modelling for Heat magazine’s Torso of the Week, “unless they’ve got a section for lads who like a bit of beer and food.”
There are no such qualms when I raise the suggestion of a video featuring twerking models in flesh-coloured bikinis. “Yeah, why not - let’s do it. When do we start? I might tell them to calm down the twerking part, but I’m all for a model in a bikini.”When it comes to the final item on my list – getting totally shitfaced at the Brit Awards – it turns out that Callum is already ahead of the game. “I went to the Q Awards the other day, and I did a very similar thing. It starts at midday and there’s free booze on the table, so you’re feeling a bit drunk by about half one. Everyone goes to this pub afterwards as well. So you have to play the game a little bit, and fall into that world. It was just a bit weird. You’re sat at the table, and someone’s going, can I just squeeze past you – and you turn around, and it’s Robbie Williams.”
The Young Blood EP is released digitally and on 7” vinyl on Sunday 5 January by National Anthem records. Saint Raymond tours Europe throughout December, but you’ll have to wait until Friday 28 March to see him in Notts again, at the Rescue Rooms.